Issue: 24
System: Full Thrust
Publisher: Ground Zero Games

Last One Out is Toast
by David Manley

"Launch in three...two...one...now!' Lieutenant Caroline Payne felt a kick like a mule's as the escape pod thrusters engaged. From the view port she looked back at the once proud cruiser on which she had served as a Tactical Officer. Now the ship had been reduced to a mass of twisted wreckage. The wreck disappeared in a blinding flash of light as the drives finally exploded. No more pods would be launched now. As the blast wave buffeted the pod she had nothing but good thoughts for the naval architect who had placed an escape pod access next to her action station (it was odd, she thought, that starship designers were still called naval architects, even after all this time in space).

Caroline noticed a red blinking light on the control console. She felt a cold chill as she realised that the light showed that the pod's stealth systems had failed. Even now an armed shuttle from the pursuing enemy battlecruiser was matching vectors with her pod. She wondered how they would treat their prisoners...

Introduction

Us wargamers are, on the face of it, a fairly callous bunch. Ships which are sunk are lost with all hands, tanks explode killing all within. There are no survivors. Fair enough, you might say; the tank or ship concerned is no longer a fighting unit and can be ignored as far as the rest of the game is concerned and in many cases I would agree with that statement. However,to ignore them completely is to ignore a whole spectrum of possible scenario ideas. I included rules for survivors in my 'Schnellboot' and 'Action Stations' WW2 coastal forces rules and their inclusion seemed to be quite popular. Players were faced with situations where, for example, their flotilla commander's boat was shot out from under him. In a 'normal' game that would be the end of it, but with the survivor rules in play an extra dimension was added, as players tried valiantly to save their stricken crews from under the noses of the enemy. Having seen the system work for WW2 coastal forces games I decided to bring it up to date (should that be ahead of date?) and apply it to Full Thrust. As with my previous articles on auxiliaries and FTL travel none of what follows is cast in stone; the rules as presented work in my campaign universe but may not apply to yours, so please take as little or as much from the rules as you please.

Catastrophe!

At some point during a game is almost certain that the crew of at least one starship will seek to evacuate their ship. This is usually heralded by sparking consoles, red flashing lights, dramatic jets of carbon dioxide and big holes in the bulkheads. The time they have available to make their escape depends on the 'Failure Type' (FT) of the ship. FT is expressed as one of three basic rates, which I shall call Long Term, Short Term and Catastrophic Failure.

Long Term Failure occurs when the crew have sufficient time to carryout an orderly evacuation. Examples are failure of life support systems or contamination of the ship's interior by some toxic agent. Contemporary examples are the abandoning of the Achille Lauro due to fire, or the evacuation of Red October due to a faked radiation leak in Tom Clancy's novel. In this case all those, or at least a very high proportion of those aboard are assumed to have escaped.

Short Term Failure occurs when the crew have a very limited time to escape.Examples are the loss of the final damage point resulting in rapid loss of structural integrity and life support. The closest contemporary example is that of a ship sinking. In this case the chance of escape is variable.

Catastrophic Failure occurs when the ship is consumed by an unexpected,instantaneous disaster. Examples are Warp Core breaches (for all you Trekkies out there), magazine explosions and collisions with asteroids. In this case the chance of escape is negligible

Escape Systems

Starships will have several different escape systems installed, ranging from simple survival packs for use with space suits through escape pods to large emergency shuttles. The type of systems installed will depend on the size of the ship, the number of personnel, and the training of those personnel (ships with large numbers of passengers will be equipped with systems requiring little or no input from the survivors).

1. Space Suits

These will normally be stored close to the ship's air locks. For Escape and Rescue purposes emergency kits will be stored with the suits. These kits include such features as radio beacons, provision extended life support,thruster packs and atmospheric re-entry kits. The latter is a system featuring an expanding ablative re-entry shield and a parachute - the user is protected from the perils of re-entry by the shield until the lower reaches of the atmosphere are reached, whereupon the shield is jettisoned and the user parachutes to safety. With this in mind planetary survival kits are also included. Use of any space suit escape system requires extensive training and untrained civilian passengers are unlikely to survive if forced to use space suits unaided. The suit itself offers little protection, so escape from an exploding starship using a suit is likely to be short-lived.

Space suits are assumed to form part of the normal construction costs and hull masses of starship design, and therefore do not cost anything to include in a design.

2. Escape Pods

These are simple space lifeboats holding from 1 to 50 personnel, depending on the size of the parent ship. Operation is simple, allowing use by inexperienced personnel such as civilian passengers. Once all are aboard a simple control sequence is keyed in to the pod's command system and the pod launches. This may be as simple as a big red handle with 'Launch' printed in reassuringly large letters on it. Escape pods are fitted with extensive shielding to protect them from the blast of a nearby catastrophic failure. Escape pods will have limited thrust capabilities designed to move the pod to a safe distance from the parent ship. On-board autosystems will decide the optimum course of action: if a habitable planet is nearby the pod will attempt a landing, otherwise it will move to a location safe from any local threat(such as excessive radiation, asteroids etc.). Automatic distress beacons are activated to aid location of the pod by rescue services. Most military pods also include a threat analysis system which determines the optimum course of action depending on the tactical situation. For example, if the enemy are likely to fire on escape capsules or if capture of the occupants is to be avoided the capsule will 'go silent' and only activate its beacons when enemy forces have left or when friendly ships are nearby. This feature may be countermanded by those on board in situations where the risk of being detected by the enemy outweighs the risks of remaining unrescued in the pod.

Like space suits, escape pods are assumed to form part of the normal construction costs and hull masses of starship design, and therefore do not cost anything to include in a design.

3. Escape Shuttles

These are fully equipped space craft in their own right, fitted with normal space drives and capable of normal operations as any other small space ship would be. The main difference is that they are carried in rapid launching facilities (i.e. launch tubes) which are heavily protected to reduce the chance of damage prior to launch. Another important difference is that they are NEVER used except in an emergency. Personnel capacities range from 20 to 100, again depending on the ship type. As with the escape pod they may be operated in a fully automatic mode by untrained personnel,and in this mode they will carry out the same decision-making process as the escape pod. Escape Shuttles can also be used as survival base ships,providing power and supplies to escape pods, marshalling drifting pods and picking up other survivors in space suits.

Escape shuttle launch arrangements are well integrated into the parent ship's structure and thus can be treated as having zero mass. However, the shuttles themselves are expensive items, and provision of a shuttle escape system costs 10 points for cruiser sized vessels, and 15 points for larger ships.

The Equipment In Action

Before we can use these systems in our games we need to determine how many people are aboard our ships. As a rule of thumb I suggest a crew of 10 per Mass point for warships, 20 per Mass for passenger ships, and 4 per mass for merchants.

For ships suffering Long Term Failure all the crew will escape. It is assumed that there has been enough time for the correct lifeboat drill to be carried out and that all the injured have been saved. Fatalities caused by the reason for abandonment are up to the referee.

For those suffering hull damage the crew losses for each damage point lost equal half the figures given above (a warship loses 5 personnel per hit, a passenger ship 10, and a merchant 2). The same losses are taken for each system lost through threshold damage. The final result at the time of the ship's evacuation is the total number of people who managed to get off when the ship finally blew up, became uninhabitable etc. Note that it is possible, particularly on the smaller ships, for there to be no survivors even in this case.

For ships suffering catastrophic damage roll a d6, subtracting 4 for Scout class vessels, 3 for cruisers and 2 for Capital class ships. The score is the number of survivors. Messy!

Next we decide what escape method the survivors have used. The table below shows what ships can carry what escape methods, and also indicates the chance of those systems being damaged or destroyed at the time of use

Escape System Smallest Ship Liable to Damage Chance of Damage (d6) Endurance
Partial Loss Full Loss
Space Suit All n - - 2 days
Escape Pod Scout y 5 6 30 days
Escape Shuttle Cruiser y 4-5 6 60 days

The chance of damage indicates the scores leading to partial or complete loss of that escape system in the case of a Short Term Failure (no systems are assumed to be damaged in a Long Term Failure, whilst in a Catastrophic Failure the survivors (if any) are assumed to have got out in an escape pod or a shuttle if available - a suit would offer no protection from the catastrophe). Note that the survival endurance of the system is also given.This is the number of days the system can support life in space or in a hostile environment without outside assistance.

All survivors are assumed to be in the most effective escape system available.For example, if a ship is equipped with escape shuttles, all the survivors are assumed to be in shuttles. In practice they probably got off using various methods, but following the evacuation the shuttles would move around the casualty site and pick up those in suits and pods, or take the escape pods under tow. If a system is partially damaged, half the survivors are left in the next lowest form of escape. For a ship with shuttles, partial loss would mean half the survivors escaping in pods. For pod-only ships half the survivors are in suits. Full loss means all the survivors are in the next lowest form of escape.

Survivors are best represented by a counter, marked with S for suits,P for Pods and ES for Escape Shuttles (models could also be used). The counter should also allow recording of the number of survivors represented by that counter. Survivor counters move in the same direction and at the same speed as the ship they escaped from. Those in suits have no form of manoeuvre unless the ship they escaped from was in orbit around a habitable planet with a suitable atmosphere, when they will attempt re-entry. Escape pods have a thrust rating of 2 which can be used to avoid obstacles such as asteroids,or to thrust towards habitable planets. No other manoeuvre is allowed. Shuttles have a thrust rating of 4 which may be used as desired (unless all the survivors aboard are unskilled, in which case treat as an escape pod).

To rescue survivors in space a rescue ship must match vectors with the survivor's counter (i.e. they are travelling on the same course and at the same speed, and are within 2" of the counter). All survivors represented by the counter may be picked up in a single turn. Note that a ship's maximum carrying capacity is likely to be 5 times its normal crew, so don't allow a scout ship to pick up all the survivors from a battleship! Note also that survivors will not be able to choose who picks them up, and if the enemy get to your Admiral's escape pod before you do - tough. In the case of escape shuttles, enemies ending a turn within 2" are assumed to have shot out the shuttle's drives, allowing capture when vectors are matched.

Unpleasant as it may be, some players will want to blast their enemy's survivors into space dust. To do this an enemy ship must manoeuvre as if to pick up the survivors, but instead of being picked up the counter is removed from play. Pods and shuttles that have 'gone quiet' have a 50% chance of avoiding fire (roll a d6, they escape on a roll of 1-3 and are not detected for the rest of the game).

Example

The cruiser Harvey has a Mass of 32, and therefore has a crew of 320. After a long battle the last Damage Point is lost and the crew abandon ship. The Harvey is equipped with Escape Shuttles. The owning player rolls a 5 for the Shuttles and a 5 for the Escape Pods - half the Escape Shuttle and Escape Pod capacity is lost! During the battle four systems were lost to threshold damage. The Harvey has therefore lost 160 crew to hull damage,plus 20 crew to system damage. The number of survivors is (320-160-20) = 140. Of these, 70 are in Shuttles. The other 70 are divided between Pods and space suits, 35 in each. A habitable planet is nearby and the pods and shuttles automatically head for them. The survivors in suits continue at the same speed and on the same heading as the ship (there is not enough capacity to take them aboard the shuttles or the pods) until they rescued by nearby ships. Note that, although an escape shuttle is present it is unable to pick up the suited survivors due to the partial loss of capability.

Final Thoughts

Fighter Ejection Systems

Fighters are likely to be constructed with crew pods so that in the case of the fighter's destruction the pilot can jettison the pod and escape.Obviously with a small target like a fighter there is a high chance that the shot which takes out the fighter will vaporise the pod before ejection takes place, so the chance of survival is low. Each time a fighter group takes a casualty, roll a d6 per fighter destroyed. On each score of 5 or 6 one of the pilots has survived. Treat pilot escape pods as if they were normal escape pods as in the rules above.

Emergency Separation

As a Trekkie I thought I would have to add this section, which involves the separation of part of the ship (usually that containing the Command facilities and accommodation) from the part of the ship most likely to go bang, i.e. engineering and explosive weaponry. However, examination of the available evidence shows that even in an emergency, a successful separation takes about 5 minutes, making its use in a catastrophic failure impossible and near useless even in a short term failure. As a result, separation is nearly exclusively used in long term failure cases, such as terminal propulsion system failures, radiation leaks etc. If players wish to have this facility I would suggest a 10% increase in hull cost based on the need to include separation arrangements and internal arrangements that may not be 100% effective.

In a Long Term Failure the separated module becomes a spaceship in its own right, having a number of damage Points equal to the final row on the parent vessel's Ship Record Sheet. It will have no FTL capability and will have a thrust rating of 2. It will have no screen capability, and armament for self defence will be the equivalent of a single 'C' Class battery (or the equivalent weakest weapon system available for races using alternative weapons technology) - it is likely that larger weapons will be mounted on the separated section, but the reduced power available due to separation from the rest of the ship reduces the strength of the weapon to a minimum.Separation takes one turn to complete, during which the ship may not use thrust, screens, nor may it fire weapons. Separation may not take place if any damage points have been crossed of the final line of the ship's record sheet (the separation systems are damaged). The effect of these rules is that, although separation in combat is possible, the act of doing so places the ship at considerable risk, and must be carried out whilst the ship still has a fair degree of combat worthiness remaining. As far as the rest of the ship is concerned it is treated as a derelict - I was never happy about certain ships in certain TV and film series splitting and fighting as two separate ships, but if you want to do that sort of thing in your campaign universe, go ahead. Note that all survivors from the damaged ship can escape in the separated section.

Conclusion

I hope the lengthy description does not give the impression of a complicated system. The example shows that this is not the case. The Escape and rescue rules are best suited to campaign games, where crew experience is gained as the campaign progresses and especially where continuing characters area feature (where IS the Princess's escape pod?). They can add a bit of spice to one-off games and can serve as reasons for games in themselves, such as extended rescue missions - think about the effort that American forces put into rescuing downed fighter pilots in Vietnam, and think what human forces would do if facing an enemy such as the Kra'Vak!

Ed Note: Full Thrust is a simple, flexible and highly popular game of starship combat which must rate as one of the all time Classic games. Full Thrust has won the Best SF Rules category every time the SFSFW Awards have been held. For further details regarding price and availability, send an SSAE to Ground Zero Games PO Box 337, Needham Market, Suffolk, IPA 8LN.