Not every starship encounter needs to be a fight. Yes, the majority of the rules in the Core Rulebook deal with fights between ships, but when you think of starship scenes from sci-fi media, that is hardly the only thing an intrepid crew is doing while onboard. Maybe they are engaged in a high speed escape through hazardous space (or even more harrowing, in a planet’s atmosphere), or chasing down a fleeing messenger drone, or perhaps just racing another ship. All can make for great in game scenes, but it would be easy to just have the pilot make a few piloting checks and call that it. Don’t make that mistake! Giving your whole party ways to contribute always makes for a better game, so why not some updated chase mechanics to use to spice things up!
First, a word of warning. All to often in Pathfinder, a chase comes down to a series of this or that skill checks to move along a set sequence. That can easily lead to frustration and boredom at the table. Try to move past the idea that there are only two possible avenues to success for any given obstacle. Encourage creative thinking, and feel free to lower the DC for checks when the players have done some particularly strong problem solving.
From the Core Rulebook page 392:
“It is up to you, as the GM, to determine the DCs of the various skill checks the players will attempt during play. Many of the skill descriptions include guidance on typical DCs for skill checks, but there may be times when you need to come up with a DC on your own. If a skill check does not have a predetermined DC, or if a player wants to attempt a task that is not covered in a skill’s description, use the following guidelines. A challenging DC for a skill check is equal to 15 + 1-1/2 × the CR of the encounter or the PCs’ Average Party Level (APL). For an easier check, you might reduce the DC by 5, while increasing the DC by 5 makes for a more difficult check. Changing the DC by 10 or more makes for either a trivial check with little chance of failure or a prohibitively high check with little chance of success, so be cautious when adjusting skill check DCs! “
With that in mind, here is how I would break down skill checks:
Captain: Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, Sense Motive
Chief Mate: Acrobatics, Athletics, raw physical stat checks
Engineer: Engineering, and to a lesser extent Computers and Physical Science
Gunner: Perception, attacks, possibly Sense Motive checks
Magic Officer: Mysticism, caster level checks, spell casting
Pilot: Perception, Piloting, Dexterity checks
Science Officer: Computers (and the only one who can really sub in Computers for Culture, Life Science, Mysticism, and Physical Science)
Everyone can make Culture, Life Science, Mysticism and Physical Science checks to contribute knowledge. I would add a Doctor position as needed, for someone to use Medicine and medical supplies.
Everyone can switch stations once per challenge, but can only attempt one check per challenge.
From the PF1 Gamemastery Guide page 232
“When laying out your chase into a “track” you should decide if there’s a preset ending (a “finish line”), be it a contested resource, an escape vehicle, a portal that whisks away the pursued foe to an unknown location before winking out, or some similar goal that the fleeing character is trying to reach before he gets caught by the pursuers. If the chase has a finish line, mark one of the cards as such. If the pursuers haven’t caught the fleeing character by the time he reaches this card, the chase ends. If your chase doesn’t have a finish line, and it’s merely a race of attrition, you should lay your chase cards out in a square, circle, or similar shape so that there’s no obvious beginning or ending. You can even lay out chase cards in a grid pattern, allowing the participants to move about a field of obstacles in any direction they wish.”
So, with we’ve got the pieces, let’s put them together. Here’s the scene – the intrepid crew are being pursued by an overwhelming force, several capital ships and innumerable fighters, and quickly realize the odds are such that they can’t hope to survive a direct confrontation. They bolt, hoping to use local obstacles, skilled flying, and perhaps raw psychic power to get enough distance to engage their Drift drive and escape. As a general rule they will need at least two successes to move to the next phase, and if they spend more than two phases at the same point the chase is over and the crew failed to escape. Feel free to tweak as needed though, and don’t be afraid to reward a brilliant move.
Facing a wall of foes, they’ve got to get some space to maneuver. This could be a Difficult Piloting check to pull a gutsy bit of flying, or an Engineering check to supercharge the engines and blast past the fleet, or even a Bluff check to throw them off for a second. Entertain different ideas, and encourage the group to try multiple solutions at once. If they get enough successes, move to the next phase.
2. Head for that Debris Field
Hoping to use the chaos of a near by debris field to throw off pursuit, the crew heads in, but first they have to get there. They need something to put off the inevitable, maybe psychic interference from the Magic Officer to cause the enemy pilots to hesitate, some kind of sensor ghost created by the Science Officer, or just the Chief Mate manually throwing empty crates out of the cargo hold to foul up their back trail.
3. Never Tell Me the Odds!
Desperate trying to navigate a space full of constantly shifting obstacles when even a single collision could be deadly, the crew is pushed to the limit. This is going to take some real hot dog flying from the Pilot, a brief speech about pulling together from the Captain, and some expert shooting of space debris from the Gunner. Even if they get through, don’t be afraid to tick some damage off their shields or even their hull points. Nobody gets out of this unscathed!
4. There’s Something Alive Here
The debris field, it turns out, is home to something or several somethings alive and hungry for space ships. With a good Computers or Life Science check from the Science Officer, a strong reading of auras from the Magic Officer, and more shooting from the Gunner, perhaps they can drive the creature off long enough that it takes out more of the opposition instead of taking a bite out of them.
5. The Ruse
This is it, the trick that gets the crew out of this mess. With a combination of expert Piloting, a fake explosion generated by the Engineer or Chief Mate, fake sensor readings from the Science Officer, and an ace Bluff check from the Captain, just maybe they can sell the lie that their ship perished in the debris field.
And there you have it, a short space ship chase. However it turns out, don’t let that be the end of the story. If the crew succeed, they wait until local space has cooled off, make the jump to the Drift, and continue the adventure. If they fail, their ship is disabled and you can move to a boarding action, or even just have the ship captured. Now it’s a prison break, or maybe their captors have a use for a plucky crew, so long as they have insurance the party won’t betray them via an inserted observer, bomb on their ship, or some other combination of counter measures.
Hope that inspires you to incorporate more non-combat space ship action into your game. And if it does, let me know how it went!
As always, if you liked this or any of my other posts, I always appreciate a coffee. Have fun and stay safe out there Starfinders!
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