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Chapter 4: Running Starship Campaigns / Designing Starship Encounters

Alternate Win Conditions

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 141
When the PCs are faced with a starship encounter that could erupt into combat, it’s important to point out that not every such encounter must end traditionally. Even an encounter that starts with combat be resolved in multiple ways, and some encounters may begin with different parameters altogether. GMs who are willing to entertain such possibilities should listen carefully to their players and think creatively about the myriad ways the engagement could end.

In a campaign that’s heavy on starship encounters and combat, it’s particularly important to include many types of interactions to liven things up and make sure that all PCs get a chance to spotlight their abilities. Below are some examples of encounters that could have win conditions other than defeating the enemies in combat.

Avoiding Attack: Sometimes, fighting an enemy is futile; rather than attacking directly, the PCs should evade the enemy so they can live to fight another day. Such encounters can take a variety of forms. Perhaps the PCs are cornered by an overwhelming number of opponents and must cut a path through enemy lines to make their escape. In this scenario, defeating all the opponents isn’t expected or even possible, and the PCs will need to think strategically to determine the best path to get out.

Another example of this type is a stealth mission where the PCs must follow a target starship without being detected, whether to find its destination or to gather information about the ship as a precursor to a more direct assault. This could involve the PCs using special stealth field technology or making use of the environment around them to avoid detection, such as a field of chunky debris that is difficult to scan.

Competition: Even in combat, destruction of the opposing ship doesn’t always need to be the intended outcome. Many types of competitions can also make use of starships. Perhaps the PCs need to win a race, beat their competitors through an obstacle course, or engage in a shooting contest where contestants try to take out other targets rather than each other. Some starship competitions might even involve the competitors remotely piloting drones instead of being on a ship themselves.

A starship duel is another potential nonlethal competition. Although much of a starship duel will be resolved like a typical combat, the participants in a duel generally need to abide by certain rules—such as agreeing on which weapons are permitted or which ship systems are off-limits as targets, like life support—and have a set win condition. These win conditions vary based on the terms of the duel but could include things such as depleting a ship’s shields, reducing a ship to a certain number of Hull Points, or a first strike taking the win.

Like in any context, it’s possible but risky to cheat. Getting caught breaking the rules could result in anything from good-natured dismay to utter disapproval to even lethal retaliation. Even the outwardly lawless Free Captains only abide a certain amount of foul play, whereas breaking a dueling covenant with a proud vesk crew could earn the PCs an enemy for life! This duplicity could spawn an entire new segment of a campaign—one in which the PCs have made serious enemies or must answer for the unintended consequences of their actions.

Protection and Defense: Sometimes the PCs need to focus on defense rather than offense, protecting or attempting to reach a target to prevent it from being harmed. In these cases, there is likely some typical starship combat involved, but destroying the opposition means little if the PCs don’t succeed in their protective duties. These missions could include transporting a wanted target through enemy territory, protecting a more vulnerable ship from raiders, or breaking past an extremely powerful ship in order to defend a vulnerable target elsewhere. The same risky maneuvers that work brilliantly in other starship scenarios might instead prove to be a liability when protecting an objective, so reckless crews might have to change tactics to adapt.

Social Starship Combat: Just as the PCs’ opponents aren’t always going to fight to the death or to the destruction of their ship, the PCs won’t always want to do so, either. In some encounters, the PCs may be able to talk their foes down or trick them into specific actions that will work in their favor. For example, the PCs may wish to challenge an enemy ship to distract its crew from pursuing another goal. Such an encounter might eventually result in combat, but the PCs need to taunt the enemy captain into fighting them. This could include special, encounter-specific actions, such as giving the captain the ability to bait the enemy into taking a particular action (like attacking) with a successful taunt action, or giving the science officer the ability to target the enemy’s systems to prevent them from escaping. When inventing such actions, be flexible with the rules while keeping the PCs’ capabilities in mind.

Another socially-oriented encounter could require the PCs to convince an opposing starship’s crew to surrender without dealing too much damage to the ship—perhaps they need to capture something or someone aboard. This might involve dealing some blows before opening negotiations, or perhaps other encounter-specific actions like a special demand or encourage action by the captain convincing the opponent to surrender.

Strategic Timing: Sometimes, the method PCs use to accomplish a task is less important than the moment at which they do so. The tension of beating the clock, surviving long enough, or timing an attack perfectly can introduce fresh tension into an encounter. Perhaps the PCs face an overwhelming enemy armada—but if they can hold out for a certain number of rounds, reinforcements will arrive to help turn the tide. Conversely, the PCs may need to win an encounter as quickly as possible, with each successive round introducing greater danger via worsening environmental conditions, enemy reinforcements, or a key target escaping. Different still, an encounter might require the PCs to fulfill an objective at a precise moment, like pushing an asteroid into an enemy or firing a missile through a portal before it closes. Despite its dramatic potential, strategic timing is a trope best used sparingly, lest your players become fatigued from the constant pressure.