Ferrymen: Updated Space Conflicts

Part 8 of the Ferrymen series, a long running home campaign adapting Diaspora to Fate Core.

Last time I hinted that the embellishing of our digital conflict rules in Ferrymen had also coincided with some changes to space conflicts as a whole. These changes were partly made to allow as much compatibility between our different conflict systems as possible. However, the update is also the result of many MANY hours of playtesting the system in our campaign – 71 sessions and counting! – and adapting it to better suit the priorities of what our group wants to focus on with their spaceships (as well as more boring concerns like game balance). Were I to summarise the changes, I’d say they reflect a deviation away from the assumptions inherited from Diaspora, and towards a more streamlined and action-driven focus, with its own hard sci-fi identity.

Ferrymen’s spaceship rules are one of the most popular posts on this blog, so I’m hoping that someone else out there might benefit from our trial-and-error playtests useful. Why not let me know if you use these updates in your own games?

 

SKILL LIST UPDATE

For most of the campaign since we transitioned from Diaspora to Fate Core, Ferrymen has used the below 20 skills:

Athletics
Bureaucracy (a new skill for negotiating contracts, lawyering, trading and paperwork)
Contacts
Deceive
Education (rename of Lore)
Empathy
Fight
Intrusion (rename of Burglary)
Investigate
Notice
Physique
Pilot (rename of Drive)
Provoke
Rapport
Resources
Seamanship (a new skill for the operation of spaceship systems)
Shoot
Stealth
Technology (rename of Crafts)
Will

However, as of March 2018, we’ve replaced the Seamanship skill with “SysOps” – and not just because I got sick of people sniggering when I said the word “Seamanship”.

SysOps still covers all the same things that Seamanship used to. Most non-Intrusion rolls that use spaceship systems still fall under its purview: communications, navigation, tactical simulation, electronic countermeasures, astrotelemetry, power regulation, anti-viral defence. It’s still used to defend against data attacks, and to heal digital consequences.

However, the skill is now explicitly ALSO used for Systems Operation of advanced/specialist/complicated software that ISN’T on board a spaceship. E.g. Everything listed above, except inside an army base, or whatever. As digital conflicts become a more central part of the game, we found ourselves needing a skill that allowed for the possibility of hacking duels that don’t take place in the depths of space. SysOps now fills that niche.

(So why was it called Seamanship in the first place? A lot of Ferrymen skills came from options on Diaspora’s very long skill list being clumped together, and Seamanship seemed the best headline descriptor for all of those old skills that ended up merging. I also wanted to leave the door open for PCs to create skill substitution stunts that let them use Seamanship for other Space Stuff (e.g. instead of Shoot to fire cannons, instead of Athletics for micro-G manoeuvres), but this was sufficiently unpopular that it seemed like time to remove its space-themed implications.)

To provide additional clarity about when use of SysOps was appropriate, I also drafted the guide below for my players:

If you’re using a basic and intuitive computer system for routine use, to perform or find out something that is easily automated, don’t roll. You succeeded. For anything advanced, complicated or specialist – or that is being performed under significant pressure, or requires exacting detail – use SysOps.

If you’re building computer hardware, or healing a frame consequence, use Technology. If you’re building computer software, or healing a data consequence, use SysOps.

If you’re using flight software to drive the ship, use Pilot. If you’re using navigation software to plot a course the pilot follows, use SysOps.

If you’re breaking into a system and using it how it wasn’t supposed to be used, use Intrusion. If you already have authorised access, but the system is just complicated to use properly, use SysOps.

If you want to already know, or quickly calculate, advanced or specialist information, use Education if it is in any way plausible. If you want to use advanced software to perform calculated complications, use SysOps.

If you want to compile a database of technical information to refer to at your convenience, use Investigate. If you need to extract technical information from that database, at a time that is very much NOT convenient, use SysOps.

 

SKILL MODIFIERS UPDATE

In my rules for space conflicts first published three years ago, I specified six different skill modifiers for spaceships, that were applied as a bonus or penalty to actions taken whilst on board them. These modifiers were Thrust, Hull, Systems, Weapons, Cooling and Cargo.

After a few years of playtesting, we discovered that some of these modifiers turned out reliably more useful than others. In particular, Systems stood out as the digital equivalent of Thrust (defending against attacks), Hull (setting stress tracks) and Weapons (making attacks), all in one modifier. Meanwhile Cargo, a holdover from Diaspora when trading stats were used to determine the success of the crew’s commercial enterprises, had long since ceased to be relevant to our game, now that the PCs were rich, famous, running their own trade union, and focussing on secret slipstream research. (Or, these days: fugitive, infamous, running for their lives, and focussing on slipstream research.)

Since digital conflicts became a bigger part of our game, the balance issues with these skill modifiers required some alteration. The new modifiers we use are Antiviral, Construction, E-War, Operations, Thrust and Weapons.

  • ANTIVIRAL. A spaceship’s digital integrity and cybersecurity, the software it uses to repel malware and cleanse corrupted systems. Usually paired with the SysOps skill. Used to defend against data attacks, to repair data consequences, and to set the ship’s data stress track (add a 4-stress box if positive, remove the 3-stress box if negative).
  • CONSTRUCTION. How well a ship is built to survive the pressures of spaceflight and combat, including the build-up of heat. Usually paired with the Technology skill. Used to defend against frame attacks from heat, to repair frame consequences, and to set the ship’s frame stress track (add a 4-stress box if positive, removed the 3-stress box if negative).
  • E-WAR. The spaceship’s electronic warfare suite, its ability to establish a communications link and exploit it for installation of malware and viruses. Usually paired with the Intrusion skill. Used to make data attacks (if the character has the relevant stunt).
  • OPERATIONS. How technologically advanced and user friendly the vessel’s non-combat systems perform, including astrotelemetry, navigation, simulation and non-invasive communications. ALSO usually paired with SysOps, though sometimes paired with Education, Investigate or even Notice. Not used to attack or defend.
  • THRUST. The spaceship’s acceleration and reflexive course adjustment – how fast it gets from A to B. Usually paired with the Pilot skill. Used to defend against frame attacks from enemy Weapons, adjusting relative speed (moving zones in space conflicts), and contests of locomotion (flight and pursuit).
  • WEAPONS. The munitions loadout of a vessel, including both beams (effective zones 0-1) and torpedoes (effectives zones 1-2). Usually paired with the Shoot skill. Used to make frame attacks (if the character has the relevant stunt).

Despite the changes to these modifiers, all other rules for spaceships and spaceship generation remain the same. Spaceships get the same amount of “modifier points” (usually 0) to split between the six modifiers whilst they are being built (with modifiers usually capped between +2 and -2). All other capabilities of a spaceship (e.g. its capacity to haul valuable cargo) are determined by aspects and by its stunts, but do not implement a passive skill modifier.

Spaceship sheet 3

Here’s our updated spaceship sheet! Click here to download a PDF version.

 

INTERFACERS UPDATE

The rules for building your own interfacer, though, do require a small update. Civilian interfacers begin with the aspect, stress and modifiers below…

Aspect: Civilian Interfacer

Antiviral: +0
Construction: -2
E-War: -2
Operations: 0
Thrust: 0
Weapons: -2

Frame Stress: O O
Data Stress: O O O

Spaceships can have a civilian interfacer or two for free. For one refresh, they can upgrade to have a combat interfacer. Choose an Interboard, Interdub or Interstrike, take the corresponding stunt and new high concept, and gain 4 skill points to distribute amongst the modifiers as you see fit (no modifier can be higher than +2).

Unlike earlier iterations of combat interfacer rules, which prevented the increase of Cooling or Hull above -2, new combat interfacers CAN increase their Construction – they still don’t suffer heat attacks, or gain consequences, but it can be used to increase the Frame Stress track if the builder wishes. All other rules for interfacers remain unchanged.

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