The Battle of Ascension

I make two claims about Starships. One, movement in the game is realistic; and two, that the game is fun. In chasing the second claim, I withheld some ideas from the game. Over the next few months, I will post some of those ideas as special scenario rules.

While these rules are labeled “scenario rules”, there’s no prohibition against using them outside this scenario, assuming the players agree.

Note that these rules are provisional, and will be superseded by any scenario bundles I publish. Starships is intentionally a scale-less game, to allow players to play at a variety of locations. In this scenario, I fix the time and distance scales.

The Battle of Ascension is the second battle the humans fought in the First Interstellar Age, and the first between fleets of ships. The combatants were Moultrie and Old Earth. (More accurately, ships from Moultrie, Tzcheenucoatl, and Xìngyùn versus a United Nations fleet.)
The cause of the battle was Earth’s invasion of Ascension. Moultrie had received intelligence that Earth was planning one, but arrived to late to prevent it. Instead, the Moltrons found the Earthlings already on planet, and in possession of Ascension station. With the invasion still in doubt, Moultrie attacked Earth’s fleet to establish a blockade.

For their part, the Earthlings had not expected Moultrie to intervene. Their fleet was designed to transport ground troops, and Admiral Coffey immediately understood that the loss of his fleet would be a fatal blow to Earth’s ambitions.

S1.1 Scenario set-up:

Scale: the distance scale is 4000 km/inch, and one turn is 15 minutes.

Roles: Moultrie is the attacker, and Old Earth the defender.

Objectives: Moultrie, fleet engagement; Old Earth is evacuating the station.

Postures: Moultrie is in pursuit, while Old Earth is outbound and dispersed.

Location: Ascension is a 3″ garden world with a space elevator. See scenario special rule S1.2 for location details. The Area of Operations is jump-blocked.

Momentum: Moultrie starts with momentum.

S1.2 Ascension

The size of Ascension (a garden world) is set to a 3″ diameter circle, to match the scale.

S1.2.1 Gravity

Distance from surface:    1/2"  1-1/2"   3"   4-1/2"
Adjustment for gravity:    2"     1"    1/2"   1/4"

S1.2.2 Space Elevator

The space elevator at Ascension is the simplest to model: the top of the elevator is a space station in a synchronous orbit about Ascension, while the base of the elevator floats on a mobile platform in Farhaven Bay.

Historians disagree on whether the station was armed before the invasion, or disarmed by the occupation forces. In any event, the station is unarmed, and cannot be targeted by Moultrie forces in game.

Place the station 14 inches from the center of Ascension. During the Drift Phase, move the station 3/4-inch clockwise along its orbit. After that move, draw a line to the center of Ascension. Any ship whose base touches that line dodges the elevator. It now follows the Overthrust special order in addition to any other orders it is currently following.
If the ship is already following the Overthrust order, it may not fire any weaponry during the Combat Phase.

(If the players choose to arm the space elevator, then it gets an initiative die and moves during the Movement Phase.)

S1.3 Ship Construction

All ships’ Thrust value is limited to 2. (Given the scale, this is one gee.)

Overthrust values are similarly limited to 4. (The ship is not likely thrusting at 2 g’s, but “pulsing” at a higher rate that averages to 2 g’s.)

If you replace the Thrust and Overthrust values on the generic escorts and destroyers, the resulting point costs are as follows:

Laser Escort         -  60
Mine Escort          -  52
Spine Escort         -  56
Missile Destroyer    - 318
Spine Destroyer      - 276
Multi-role Destroyer - 312
Light Carrier        - 294

The generic cruisers and behemoths don’t change. Reduce the generic freighter’s Thrust to 2.

S1.4 New Special Order: Mark An Enemy.

Declare before the unit moves. The unit may not be following a special order.

This unit coasts. Choose an enemy unit to mark, and whether the mark is offensive or defensive. The enemy must not have moved yet this turn. After the enemy moves, change the friendly unit’s facing.

If the mark was offensive, the target must lie within the arc of the maximum possible number of lasers and spines. Ignore range for this determination. During the combat phase, normal targeting rules still apply.

(This means that the target of your mark might move out of range, or a squadron of escorts might screen the target and draw your fire.)

A unit declaring a defensive mark must have an improved armor arc. Instead of aiming weapons at the enemy, a defensive mark places the enemy in the center of the best armor arc.

For both types of mark, place a special order marker to indicate that this unit is following the Mark order.

S1.5 Drones

For this scenario, fighters are actually semi-autonomous unmanned vehicles, directed by operators on the mother ship. If the attacker cannot draw line of fire from any friendly carrier to the target of a strike group’s attack, subtract one from to hit attempts. (A carrier is any ship or station with a fighter rating.)

Historical Forces

Moultrie sent a mixed force of actual warships and modular freighters that had been equipped with weapons modules. The ships were all built on Moultrie, but Tzcheenucoatl and Xìngyùn operated two of the warships. Represent them with 3 generic missile destroyers, and 6 generic laser escorts.

The invasion force from Earth consisted of troop transports and drone carriers. The drones were meant to operate from the carriers in support of the ground troops. Represent them with 5 generic light carriers, and 3 generic freighters. The freighters start docked at the station, while the carriers are dispersed.


The battle was more brutal than either side expected. Earth’s forces were the worse off: only three ships made it back to Earth, and they all needed time in the shipyard. Moultrie still had all of its warships, but two of them were damaged enough to withdraw. Most of the improvised escorts were destroyed.

It was enough of a victory for Moultrie to establish the blockade, but not enough to prevent the Earthling ground troops from taking Farhaven (Ascension’s capital, and seat of its heavy industry).

At that moment, Earth no longer had a navy, and Moultrie didn’t have an army. If Ascension was going to be free, the natives were going to have to take back Farhaven.

Designer Notes

Gravity: normally, I’d limit the effects of gravity to inches. I’ve broken this rule for two reasons: the maximum thrust rating (two inches) is low enough that a half inch makes a noticeable difference; and a danger zone of only two inches (which is what it would be if I kept the limit) is not very impressive.

The Space Elevator: as no human has actually built a space elevator, multiple (unproven) designs exist. I chose this design because it best fit the scale of this scenario, not because it’s the most likely to be built. It’s possible that a real space elevator might be anchored by a counterweight at 100,000 km, with a (physically separate) space station trailing it in a synchronous orbit — but then the counterweight would be off the table for parts of the game.

Marking Your Enemy: it would take a 500-foot ship about two minutes to make a full three-degree-of-freedom course change. This leads to the question: why can’t ships in Starships turn, then thrust, then turn again? The answer is fairly simple: the Combat Phase only appears discrete because it’s a game mechanic. The beam fire that it models takes place during the entire turn, which means that the majority of your shooting occurs while your ship (and your target) are thrusting. Because the rotations are so quick, they take place “in between” shooting.

The only exception to this is a rotation that’s deliberately made to keep your ship facing your opponent during the entire movement phase. Once you’ve committed to such a maneuver, your thrust doesn’t make much of an impact. (For example, if you only thrust for seven minutes instead of 15, the maximum course change would be a quarter of a normal thrust.)

That exception is where “marking your enemy” comes from. Don’t be surprised to see this special order added to the second edition of Starships.

Drones: this rules exists to avoid altering the fighter rules. With thrust-2 equaling 1-g, it’s hard to believe that a manned vehicle can sustain 4-g’s for hours on end. The other thing this does is better explain the abstraction of “re-launch immediately after attacking”: the limit is the number of drone operators available, while the drones themselves don’t take up as much space.

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2 Responses to The Battle of Ascension

  1. Pingback: The Battle of Luna, or the Protractor Scenario | Purple Fuzzy Monster

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