Sunday, January 13, 2019

Spaceship Skills in Knight Hawks

Art by Julian Krupa

With the spaceship rules that Knight Hawks brought to Star Frontiers, it also introduced spaceship skills.  However, such skills are not available to beginning characters.  Each spaceship skill requires a combination at least six levels of one or more 'basic' Star Frontiers skills.  As discussed previously, such levels cost over a hundred points.  Also, with regard to improvement, “Spaceship skills are a lot more expensive...than skills from the STAR FRONTIERS game.”  The rules explain, “This reflects the high degree of training a character needs in order to understand and use complex spaceship systems.”  Jeff Rients rationalizes this by comparing the setting to the early days of the space program:
Only the best of the best of the best in various terrestrial professions have the chops to learn space skills.  Test pilots and aces are allowed near the controls of spacecraft.  No one else can cut it behind the wheel of these multi-zillion credit wonders of technology.  If you want to be trusted with the cannon on a spacecraft you need to prove that you've mastered smaller weapons.
I would have an easier time buying into this analogy if there weren't space pirates.  I mean, if people with spaceship skills are so valued, there's little reason for them to turn to piracy.  Also, I don't want my escapism tempered by rationalizations.  Beginning characters in other space opera games can pilot space ships, why should it be so difficult in Star Frontiers ?  On the other hand, beginning magic-users can't cast Fireball, so perhaps a reasonable argument could be made that beginning Star Frontiers characters need not have access to spaceship skills.

There is a way to acquire spaceship skills without accumulating vast amounts of experience.  By attending spacefleet academy, a character becomes “qualified at the 1st level of a spaceship weapons skill and 2nd level of piloting, astrogation or spaceship engineering skill.”  Students also receive any 'foundation' skills at whatever levels are needed.
Spacefleet officers receive their training at the Gollwin Academy, which is the fleet war college.  The academy is a huge group of space stations orbiting Morgaine's World.  It offers a two year program in the tactics and strategy of interstellar combat.  Its graduates assume the rank of Junior Lieutenants on Spacefleet vessels.
There are, however, requirements for entering the academy.
All cadets entering the academy must have scores of at least 50 in six of their eight abilities.  The character's Leadership score must be higher than 50.
Before entering the academy, a character is interviewed by the faculty.  The character is admitted if he or she passes a Personality check.  If the check is failed, “the character may apply again one year later.”  Once in the academy, the character chooses either piloting, astrogation, or spaceship engineering to study.  If the character fails a Logic check, he or she cannot attain that skill and must select one of the two remaining alternatives.  If a second Logic check is failed, then the character can try for the last skill area with a third check.  “If the third roll fails,” we learn, “the character has 'washed out' of the academy and will never be admitted again.” 

As one might expect, “Piloting skill allows a character to fly a spaceship.”  As foundation skills, piloting requires Computer 2 and Technician 6.  At first level of ability, only “system” ships can be flown.  Starting at second level, the character can pilot starships of increasing volumes of hull size.  At sixth level, a character can pilot “All starships.”  Piloting sub-skills include evasion, increase maneuver rating, and increase accuracy of forward firing weapons.

With the astrogation skill, a character “can make the complicated calculations required to take a starship on a safe course through the Void.”  ('The Void' is the Knight Hawks version of hyperspace.  “Time is very distorted in the Void,” the introduction explains, “and space does not seem to exist at all.”)  The foundation skill for astrogation is Computer 6.  Subsets include find location, pilot interstellar jumps, and chart new routes.  (“The UPF pays a standard bonus of 100,000 Cr for information on new travel routes.”).  We are told, “Normal plotting time for a jump is 10 hours for each light-year that will be jumped.”  If less time is spent preparing, the attempt “is called Risk Jumping, or 'smoking the jump.'”  Risk jumping is another astrogation subskill.  Included with the astrogation skill description is the Interstellar Distance Table.  Given the vertical separation and horizontal separation between two stars, the table provides the distance in light-years.  This reinforces the notion that space is a two dimensional plane.

“Spaceship engineers are trained in the construction, maintenance and repair of spaceships.”  Both Technician 4 and Robotics 2 are needed as foundation skills.  (So, spaceship engineering requires less technician competency than does piloting.)  Subskills include damage control and stress analysis.  Spaceship engineering also includes the subskill of ship design, having a success rate of 100%.  Skill level determines the types of ship a character is qualified to design.  At first level, the character can only design shuttles; at second level, “System ships of all types.”  Starting at third level, a character can design starships of increasing hull size.  One assumes the skill could also be used in conjunction with space stations.

There are two distinct gunnery skills, rocket weapons (requiring Projectile Weapons 4 and Gyrojet Weapons 2 as foundation skills) and Energy Weapons (requiring Beam Weapons 6).  As explained in the previous post, levels in gunnery skills improves accuracy with ship weapons.  Appropriately, one of the subskills is improve accuracy.  The other subskill is selective targeting.  At a -30% modifier, a gunner can hit a specific system of the target ship.  “If the shop misses,” the description indicates, “it is considered a clean miss and causes no damage.”

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