Ferrymen: Combat Interfacers in Space Conflicts

Previously in the Ferrymen series, I provided our rules for spaceship conflict in Fate Core, and promised it would be followed up with rules for interface vehicles – smaller spaceships that are used for conveyance between spaceships and planetary surfaces.

The first thing to do when imagining the function of interface vehicles in Ferrymen is to dispel all notions of Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica from your mind. Interfacers are not World War 2 fighter aircraft, executing high-speed manoeuvres and engaging in dogfights. In hard sci-fi, the kind of reaction forces necessary to perform sharp banks and spinning loops are far beyond the capabilities of small spacecraft. Similarly, interfacers make poor “escorts” for their parent ships, as they cannot store the volume of reaction mass necessary to keep pace for an extended journey. And whilst interfacer gunships can be used to increase a spaceship’s firepower, it is more efficient to replace all the space and resources required to support an interfacer with more beam batteries instead.

The primary function of interface vehicles is detailed in the name: they are practical means of conveyance from a spaceship to another spaceship, moon, satellite or planetary body. They are rarely used in combat situations, where they would only be a vulnerable liability.

In Ferrymen, ongoing development of military technology has found a use for specialised interfacers – known as combat interfacers – within the theatre of spaceship engagement. The three most commons types of combat interfacer are listed below. However, these remain exceptions rather than the rule, and are seldom found outside of military organisations.

INTERFACER STATS

Your spaceship may be equipped with a civilian interfacer for free. You may take one or more combat interfacers as a replacement or addition, but for every combat interfacer you choose you must sacrifice one of your spaceship’s stunts. Alternatively, characters can sacrifice one point of their own refresh to invest in a combat interfacer.

Combat interfacers are essentially mini-spaceships. They have a single aspect, which details the kind of combat interfacer they are and a descriptor (e.g. “Sturdy Boarding Interfacer”). They have skill modifiers and stress tracks like spaceships, and a single stunt, all of which are determined by their interfacer type. Extra stunts for a combat interfacer can be purchased by using up the stunt slots of the parent ship. Interfacers never have consequence slots.

Civilian interfacers have a statline too, but since they’re not used in any dangerous situation, it’s almost never relevant. They have a single aspect (usually just “Civilian Interfacer”), no stunts and no consequences.

Interfacers don’t have need of the Cargo, Cooling or Hull skill modifiers. They’re too small to haul non-essential equipment, don’t suffer heat attacks like spaceships do, and are more fragile than even the smallest spacecraft. If it is ever important to know the values of these skill modifiers, treat them as -2. Consequently, all interfacers have a frame stress track consisting of a 1-stress box and a 2-stress box.

Civilian interfacers are usually unarmed. If it’s ever relevant, they count as have a Weapons skill modifier of -2 as well. Their Systems and Thrust skill modifiers are rated at 0. Consequently, civilian interfacers have a data stress track consisting of a 1-stress box, a 2-stress box and a 3-stress box.

The Systems, Thrust and Weapons skill modifiers of combat interfacers are determined by their type, and their data stress track is calculated based on their Systems skill modifier as usual.

INTERFACER DEPLOYMENT

At the start of a turn in a spaceship conflict, each spaceship can release any and all attached interfacers if they wish. However, any characters travelling with that interfacer lose the chance to act in that turn – they are assumed to spend the time preparing for launch, climbing aboard and blasting off into space. Interfacers are placed in the same zone as the spaceship that was carrying them.

Characters aboard interfacers act when it is their turn in the initiative order (determined by Seamanship, then Pilot, then Technology) as normal. However, the crew of an interfacer can only take an action that would use a specific skill modifier once in a turn – i.e. the interfacer’s Weapons can only be used once per turn, the interfacer’s Systems can only be used once per turn, the interfacer’s Thrust can only be used once per turn. This is an exception to the normal rule that each spaceship can use a specific skill modifier up to twice a turn.

Interfacers do not suffer heat attacks at the end of a turn, even if they take both a Thrust action and a Weapons action in a turn.

An interfacer pilot can return to a friendly ship in their zone, assuming it has docking space, by taking an overcome action with Pilot modified by Thrust.

Interfacers can only use Weapons against ships in the same zone as them. Their Systems are similarly limited, and certainly attacks with Systems can only be used against ships in the same zone as well.

Interfacers cannot normally be attacked – they are small enough to slip through beam batteries, and for torpedoes to fail to lock-on. However, attackers can usually get around this by creating advantages (e.g. “Target Lock”) that set them up as legitimate targets, unless the interfacer is protected by advantages of their own (e.g. “Silent Running”).

If they are attacked, interfacers do not have consequence slots, which can make them extremely fragile. Conceding is usually a good choice. A conceded ship has disengaged from the fight, either hiding somewhere for a pick-up, or slowly making their way back to their base ship. Either way, everyone on board is out of the conflict.

An interfacer that’s taken out is in trouble. Assuming it’s not simply blown to bits, the craft is dead in the water and running on life support, dependent entirely on an ally for rescue.

BOARDING INTERFACERS

Due to the immense speeds that spaceships travel at, and the need for a precise electromagnetic lock to board a spacecraft safely mid-flight, a forced-boarding by interface vehicle is not usually possible. The only way an interfacer can get the lock it needs is with the cooperation of the spaceship’s operator, or if the spaceship is broadcasting an automatic distress signal for emergency services. Of course, with creative hacking, a spacecraft’s distress signal can be triggered involuntarily, allowing the interfacer to lock-on and stage a boarding action.

Boarding Interfacers, or “Interboards”, are craft equipped for such a purpose. Their goal is to catch up with their prey, force an entry with a suite of sophisticated invasive software, and launch an assault that takes apart a ship from the inside. These ships are lightly armed – primarily to demolish wreckage or obstacles that impede their route of approach – but they can be effective if they’re allowed to close within short range. Whilst a boarding is only possible if a ship has space for an interfacer to dock, almost all spacecraft do, to allow friends or emergency services to dock when required.

Few militaries except the Carthaginians bother to use boarding ships, since bombardment at long range is usually a much safer way to eliminate a target. Even pirates generally prefer to coerce their victims to surrender – with force or threat of force – before boarding with civilian interfacers. To Carthage though, the expense of destroying a slipstreamer unnecessarily is sufficient incentive for them to employ a few of these vehicles. DARTS, a specialist pirate-hunting organisation, is notorious for its daring boarding actions, using teams of highly trained DARTS Commandos to overwhelm a ship’s crew with blistering speed and terrible force.

When selecting a Boarding Interfacer, write its aspect in the form “______ Boarding Interfacer”. Choose one of Systems or Thrust to have a skill modifier of +2; the other has a skill modifier of 0. Its Weapons skill modifier is rated at -2. Its data stress track has a 1-stress box, a 2-stress box and a 3-stress box; if its Systems is rated at +2, it also has a 4-stress box. In addition, all Boarding Interfacers have the stunt below:

Boarding Action: If an enemy ship in your zone has space for an interfacer to dock, and has sustained a relevant Data Consequence (e.g. “Involuntary Distress Signal), this ship can attempt a boarding action. This is an overcome action with Pilot modified by Thrust, usually opposed by the other ship’s Pilot modified by Thrust. If the action is successful, a physical conflict breaks out aboard the enemy ship. Characters involved continue to act at their stage in the space conflict initiative order, but since a character can only act once in their turn, they will usually have to choose which conflict to engage in.

INTERFERENCE INTERFACERS

To operate at full effectiveness, a spaceship needs to keep its software running and its hardware cool. Consequently, fleet commanders are always looking for ways to interfere with their enemy’s operation of these two vital functions. As interfacers are usually too small to draw fire from enemy spaceships, they are perfect for disruptive activities in a conflict.

Interference Interfacers, otherwise known as “Inter-doubles” or just “Interdubs”, are tasked with latching onto an enemy craft and staying there. From within an enemy’s blind-spot, they hack into vital systems, and bombard their target with short-range microwaves that accelerate the build-up of heat. Rarely will these annoyances be sufficient to take out a spaceship by themselves; but in an evenly matched confrontation between two vessels, the presence of an interdub that exposes or exploits weaknesses whenever they present themselves can play a crucial role.

The main weakness of these craft is they have to keep up with their target to be effective – but in a straight-up race, a full ship’s compliment of R-mass will always give them the edge, and allow them to blast away if necessary. But a ship burning fuel to outrun pursuit is still using up heat, especially if the interfacer’s parent craft is blasting ordnance after them.

When selecting an Interference Interfacer, write its aspect in the form “______ Interference Interfacer”. Choose one of Systems or Weapons to have a skill modifier of +2; the other has a skill modifier of 0. Its Thrust skill modifier is rated at -2. Its data stress track has a 1-stress box, a 2-stress box and a 3-stress box; if its Systems is rated at +2, it also has a 4-stress box. In addition, all Interference Interfacers have the stunt below:

Microwave: Interdubs cannot make attacks with their ship’s Weapons. However, they can still use Weapons to create an advantage, by saturating their target in scorching heat rays. When the ship you target rolls to defend against a heat attack at the end of the turn, any invokes on this advantage provide a +4 bonus to the attack instead of +2.

BOMBER INTERFACERS

A torpedo is a heat-seeking rocket that launches from ship-to-ship, designed to weave its way through the target’s defences and deliver an explosive payload. Bomber interfacers work in much the same way, with two notable differences: they’re much smarter, since they have a human pilot, and the crew compartment is designed to fly back home again. At least, in theory.

Also known as Interstrikes, these craft are a masterpiece of minimalist design, constructed exclusively to close with the target fast and destroy it at point-blank range. Though they are often heavily armed to continue assaults on resilient foes, most of their focus is on making the first strike the last one.

Even amongst combat interfacers, Interstrikes are rare, because flying them is insanely dangerous. A craft that survives the bombing run on approach to the target might well be obliterated on departure by vengeful survivors. Consequently, those that fly an Interstrike tend to be supremely confident or desperately suicidal.

When selecting an Bomber Interfacer, write its aspect in the form “______ Bomber Interfacer”. Choose one of Thrust or Weapons to have a skill modifier of +2; the other has a skill modifier of 0. Its Systems skill modifier is rated at -2. Its data stress track has a 1-stress box and a 2-stress box. In addition, all Bomber Interfacers have the stunt below:

Bombing Run: Once per conflict, when you make Shoot attack modified by Weapons against an enemy ship, take a +4 bonus.

2 thoughts on “Ferrymen: Combat Interfacers in Space Conflicts

  1. I’m not so sure of the application of the fluff for it (in my opinion a ship that can afford not to take extensive life support or travel fuel in exchange for more guns and reaction control apparatus is going to be extremely valuable, especially in a hard sci fi world without shields and the like) But the rules seem solid (And I think support my traction rather than yours, Just a hunch but I think having a few interfacers is more efficient than a better ship)

    For things other than Ferrymen, I’d generalize the boarding rules to something like “needs a relevant aspect before boarding” instead of specifically a data consequence. What about something like magnetic elastic clamps and drilling a hole into the ship, and countless other ways to board?

    It’d also be interesting to see strike group or wing rules. The interfacers aren’t used that way in Ferrymen (at least not yet) but since there’s bomber and strike interfacers, it means it should be possible to have many of them – that’s their main advantage. Ships have something similar by making everything into a crew skill to speed up gameplay, but it feels like the game would be significantly slowed down by an NPC carrier dumping like 12 interfacers.

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    • Good call on docking clamps and the like! Situations aspects are much easier to apply than consequences of course, but I think drilling a hole can be effectively represented as a frame consequence. So changing it to “a consequence” rather than “a data consequence” is probably the only change needed.

      In Ferrymen, interfacers seldom appear in sufficient numbers for it to be THAT unwieldy (even the PCs’ ship, described as a “command carrier” can only hold up to four). But the way to do it is probably to stat them as a single block – each extra interfacer “aids” the squad for a +1, stress rolls over, no fiddly consequences or anything like that to worry about because interfacers don’t have them anyway. Could probably be quite punishing in large numbers.

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