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Chapter 4: Running Starship Campaigns / Designing Starship Encounters

Injecting Excitement

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 140
You as GM can spice up any starship encounter, including one that’s fairly mechanically straightforward, by narrating and describing things in an exciting way. A simple mechanical description of an event in combat gets the necessary information across to the players, but it’s more dramatic to add details that draw them into the action.

Not every action will necessarily need to be described in this fashion—sometimes an attack is relatively simple, session time is running short, or you’ve already come up with 10 imaginative descriptions for particle beam attacks during that combat—but narrating notable events such as critical hits, near-misses, or the final shots that destroy a ship adds energy and dramatic tension to an encounter. It makes a combat feel more cinematic and helps the players better embody their characters. You can also encourage the players to narrate their own actions and describe what they’re doing rather than simply stating what check they want to roll, and also to engage in combat banter with their crewmates and opponents.

Enhanced Gameplay Descriptions

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 140
Using more descriptive language to narrate otherwise routine events during gameplay can help make starship encounters more thrilling. This goes for GMs narrating gameplay as well as players narrating their character’s actions.

For example, say the PCs are battling another starship and are hit with a light plasma torpedo.

A minimal description from the GM might be, “The torpedo hits you for 15 damage. You have only 3 Shield Points remaining on your starboard side, so you take 12 damage to your Hull Points after that.”

But a more exciting description could be “The torpedo strikes your starboard side. Your ship lurches from the shattering impact and takes 12 Hull Points of damage as the torpedo smashes through your starboard shields and strikes the wall of your medical bay, sending the serums and supplies clattering to the floor in the fray.”

Or, if a player decides their captain wants to taunt the enemy gunner, providing a clever highlight for their character, a minimal description might be, “I roll an Intimidate check to taunt the gunner of the enemy ship.”

But a more dynamic description would be “I turn on the comm system and broadcast, ‘You call that a shot? Our pilot has evaded plasma shots close enough to fry an egg on the hull! If that’s all you’ve got, you might as well go home.”

Creating Memorable Villains

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 140
Another way to liven up a starship encounter is to have the PCs interact with a memorable NPC on the opposing side. With ship comms, NPCs and PCs can easily banter back and forth, providing an opportunity for the PCs to get to know their opponents.

In a noncombat encounter, the PCs likely have more time to talk with some of the NPCs on other ships, whether they’re attempting to navigate the same area, racing them in a competition, or guarding their ship as part of a convoy. These conversations can provide PCs who focus on social skills an outlet for making new friends and learning new things, and it may help draw quieter PCs out of their shells, especially if they meet an NPC with a shared interest.

Even during a battle, when communications are likely more limited, giving personality to the NPCs involved gives the combat more weight than shooting down a starship crewed by faceless grunts with whom the PCs never interact. Perhaps the PCs are dueling a gruff military man with a strict sense of honor who won’t break the rules of a duel, even if it means he loses. Or perhaps they have the opportunity to talk to an unusual Devourer cultist who’s more interested in engineering projects than the Devourer’s cause, who the PCs may be able to encourage to join their side instead. Giving an NPC a more fully fleshed-out personality than “enemy pilot” gives more flavor to the encounter, and depending on how things go, could leave the PCs with a new nemesis or unexpected ally.