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Chapter 4: Running Starship Campaigns / Designing Starship Encounters

Non-combat Challenges

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 139
Though many of the rules around starship encounters focus on combat, not all starship encounters need to be battles. In open space, the PCs may need to fly through an area dense with the wreckage of other ships, get close enough to a dangerous celestial body to scan it, or follow another vessel without being noticed. In a campaign with a heavy focus on starships, the addition of non-combat challenges can break up the battles and prevent encounters from feeling repetitive.

When creating a non-combat challenge, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, since these encounters don’t need to follow the same mechanical structure as a starship combat, you should reward player creativity. Secondly, even more so than in a starship combat, it’s important to make sure that each PC can contribute to overcoming the challenge, particularly if it’s one that’s likely to take a while to resolve at the table. It’s fine if a simple non-combat challenge requires only a successful skill check or two, but an extended sequence such as shadowing another ship for several days risks losing players’ attention if their PCs are given nothing to do during this time.

In a starship combat, the PCs have defined tasks they can do in their ship roles, and while some non-combat challenges may have similar tasks to fulfill, not all roles will necessarily be accounted for with existing rules. It’s not necessary to have every PC attempt a check at each stage of the challenge, but all players should feel as though they’re helping resolve the encounter. For example, if a player’s character can’t mechanically contribute to solving a problem, but that player suggests a brilliant idea to a task-performing character through roleplaying, you might consider awarding the latter PC with a minor bonus to any required skill checks to reward the former PC’s smart thinking.

Examples of Non-Combat Challenges

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 139
Space contains multitudes of threats that shouldn’t or can’t be fought at all. Consider the following non-combat obstacles to challenge the PCs.

Navigating Debris: The PCs stumble across a field of debris. While it might seem obvious to require Piloting checks to navigate this hazard, you might also place several obstacles in the area that characters other than those flying the ship can help mitigate. For example, a large asteroid fragment might come into view too quickly for the PCs to avoid, so they must shoot it down instead. The science officer could assist the gunner in finding a weak point with a successful scan. Then, the PCs might come face-to-face with a strange energy field. The pilot must attempt a Piloting check to avoid it, but any PC could attempt a Physical Science check to determine some information that helps the starship avoid the worst of the field’s effect. This scenario provides a variety of different checks that could be attempted, empowering PCs with diverse skill sets.

Scanning a Ship Caught in Orbit: The PCs come across a derelict starship whose onboard computers contain information vital to their mission. However, the ship is caught in the orbit of a neutron star. While you might assume that the players will want to fly straight toward the ship, if they have a highly skilled mechanic, advanced supplies on board, and several PCs with strong Engineering and Computers skills, the players might decide to build a drone ship capable of getting close to the starship to scan it. In this scenario, you should reward this creative strategy, since the PCs are using their resources and the destruction of the derelict ship isn’t imminent. You might allow the players to take a few days cooperating to build their drone with a series of successful skill checks, including Engineering, Computers, Physical Science, and the like, depending on the PCs’ strategies. If you allow the PCs to solve challenges in unexpected ways, the group is likely to feel more invested in the solution.