Cinematic Vs Rules/Realism in Space Combat

Ok, so I have noticed something while watching some of the streamed/recorded shows on YouTube/Twitch that is actually kind of bugging me in regards to ship combat. It involves 2 scenarios, and I would like some minor clarification or input before my campaign starts to see how I should proceed in my own campaign, though I am fairly sure of which way I am leaning, and will also speak to my players about it.

Scenario 1: The player ship hits an enemy ship and the GM describes it as shuddering and then listing/veering off course from the impact. On the enemy turn, the GM then describes them recovering from the attack and veering back towards the PC ship just before opening fire.

To me, that describes the enemy ship taking 2 separate actions. A Conn task to correct the direction/orientation of the ship, and then a Tactical task to fire on the ship. Yet the GM didn’t spend threat for that, then spends threat to take another turn with a second ship. I have no objection to the cinematic description, and applaud the GMs for the effort. However, if you are going to have something like that happen, wouldn’t it be better to show the enemy ship taking a conn task as well, even if it is a single ‘station’ using the override to accomplish both tasks? (2 threat for a second task.)

Scenario 2: In one ‘episode’, the Conn officer used one of his Conn tasks to maneuver the ship closer to the enemy vessel, bringing them within close range of the enemy before retaining the initiative for another crew member to take an action. On the next enemy action, the GM described both enemy ships opening the distance to medium range before opening fire on the PC ship, without taking a Conn Maneuver or Impulse task. While it was ‘cinematic’, that effectively negated the attempted tactic of the Conn officer, as well as the associated penalties for firing at close range with longer range weaponry for the enemy ship.

I know ‘motion’ is relative in space, but still. These are two scenarios where ships have moved or jumped to the GM desired range or corrected course without needing to be controlled by the personnel on the ship. (Most) Vessels are not sentient and can not control themselves. Any sort of action to correct or adjust their heading or alter the distance to the target should require a Conn task in order for it to happen, shouldn’t it? Otherwise, what is the point of even having those options?

Scenario 1: I think the veering off course and the subsequent recovery is just narrative flavor. If you hit an enemy ship with an attack, there is nothing that would change a ship’s course. However, if the attack causes some breaches (e.g. the Engines), the GM could have described the Restore Minor Action that the Conn officer had to take to avoid Difficulty increases. Depending on the type of ship, the Tactical station might as well be combined with the Conn station, so that would have been a single turn, consisting of Minor Action and Task.

Scenario 2: Moving ships into another zone is always a Task of the Flight Controller. If the ships move and fire, the GM should have spent Threat to keep the initiative. Unless of course there are special rules or talents in play.

With Scenario 1, it was 2 or 3 Klingon Birds of Prey for the one that I can think of off the top of my head (although there have been more than one of that scenario that I have seen). From what I can recall, there were breaches involved, to the weapons system. The ‘impact’ he described in Shield of Tomorrow was to the wing of the bird of prey which caused it to list/drift.

I will have to watch it again to be 100% certain, but I believe he did spend threat for keeping the initiative, but not for a Conn task followed by the Tactical firing weapons task. He used the second enemy action for something else.

I could see what you are saying for scenario 1 being a possibility, and can agree with the reasoning there. Personally, if I ever describe something like that as a GM, where a ship takes damage and is knocked off course, I will require at least a Conn minor action to recover course, which technically can be achieved with an override Maneuver task from another station.

That is sufficient. NPC ships can take a number of turns equal to their Scale. So a Scale 3 Bird-of-Prey can take 3 turns (i.e. perform 3 Tasks from different stations), just as if it had 3 characters at appropriate consoles.

The GM only spends Threat to keep the initiative, because usually after an NPC ship officer’s turn a PC gets their turn.

True, if the second action being taken was on the same ship. However, I believe the second ‘turn’ for the retained initiative was for a different ship. Also, if I am remembering correctly, the rule book advises you to keep the actions similar to if the ship was being crewed by the players. For example, if you are taking a Conn task on a ship, treat it as if you were using a Conn officer at the helm, not a Science officer making a course correction then a second action to scan for weakness.

I re-watched the section where the ship was facing a larger enemy ship, and it looks like my recollection of that event was off. GM did Maneuver and then it was back to PCs

That does not matter. Each ship has a number of turns and the GM can take the turns in any order they like. So this should be allowed:

  • Turn 1: Conn officer on ship 1 moves
  • Keep the initiative
  • Turn 2: Tactical officer on ship 2 fires

I don’t see anything in the rules that say otherwise. And if player characters were for some reason on different ships, that would work for them exactly the same.

For example, if you are taking a Conn task on a ship, treat it as if you were using a Conn officer at the helm, not a Science officer making a course correction then a second action to scan for weakness.

That’s true, but from your description that did not seem to happen.

In shows and movies, cannons and torpedoes have tighter firing archs than arrays, so they have to move to turn the appropriate weapon toward their target. Ship weapons in STA have a range, and as long as your target is at that range, there is no penalty. That means that minor course corrections (including correcting course after merely “listing” to the side) are included in the attack roll itself, so there was no need for a Conn Task.

I know that is the way it is supposed to be, however that was not what I was seeing on the videos. You seem to have misinterpreted what I was describing. It was more along the lines of the following:

  • Turn 1: Ship 1 adjusts course
  • Ship 1 fires.
  • Keep the initiative
  • Turn 2: Ship 2 performs an action.

So, according to your opinion or logic from that statement, trying to employ tactics and strategy is meaningless. Example:

  • Federation ship maneuvers to be behind a Klingon Bird of Prey with a forward-firing cannon.
  • Klingon Bird of Prey flips around and fires on the Federation ship, without a penalty or need for a Conn task.

Not at all. If you were maneuvering to be behind a ship with forward mounted weapons, that would be a Conn Task to create an advantage, thus increasing the difficulty of the attack by one.


I disagree. I think it would require either a Maneuver or Attack Pattern Conn task from the Bird of Prey in order for them to even be in a position to fire.

Obviously each GM will do as they see fit. I’m just going off of the rules as written. Nothing wrong with altering it to how it makes sense to you though.

I’m not sure about example 2, and without having seen the combat in question I would be hesitant to comment too much, but it does sound like something was a little amiss with that one.

Example 1 however, as mentioned in another comment is just adding narrative flavour. The weapons strike has no way of mechanically changing the course of the vessel, and therefore there is no mechanical need for the ship to correct course. The fact that the GM decides to narrative this a little more interestingly is just a nice bit of flavour.

This is true for the cinematic feel, aside from the fact that a breach was caused.

This is the part that I have an issue with. The GM said that the course of the enemy ship was altered, and there are mechanical rules for altering and changing the course of a ship by the crew. However, the GM did not use the mechanics to correct the ship’s course.

In my opinion, that could cause some problems, especially if the PCs try to use tactics and strategy to hinder the enemy ships being able to target them as easily to mitigate damage. Not requiring anything in order to ‘turn towards the PC ship to fire’ cheapens or negates any actions the crew takes in order to give them an advantage in a fight.

I think I understand the situation better now. If the ship moves into another Zone, then it is a Task and the GM should have spent Threat to keep the initiative between moving and firing.

If adjusting course is just a narrative description of the Restore Minor Action of the Flight Controller, then the GM should also have spent Threat to keep the initiative since firing is done by a different officer/position.

If adjusting course is just a narrative description that the ship now prepares to fire, then it is OK. Just because it is not the flight controller’s turn doesn’t mean that she doesn’t do anything. In Star Trek, ships are constantly in motion and changing course. Birds-of-prey in particular behave more like fighter jets than navy ships. And since they have forward facing disruptors, I think it’s fair to describe that the ship is changing course towards the player ship. The rules don’t distinguish between weapons that fire in any direction and weapons that only fire in specific narrow arcs, so some narrative leeway should be allowed.

I haven’t seen the clip you are talking about, but as long as the ship is not changing zones or doing some other rule-relevant action, I don’t see any issue with the GM’s decisions.

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Indeed, it will be a pretty dull game if the GM cannot describe the scene with any flair because this is taken to imply “free” complications or advantages with actual in-game effects.

That being said, I think a GM (with players keen on the crunchy number aspect) should make a habit of informing players wether or not a particularly colorful description implies an actual game play effect, e.g. by making a point of applying a new Trait to indicate a plasma leak, or clarifying that the “flickering shields” is flavor and not an indication that everyone is about to die!

@SSiron I really think you are trying to ascribe mechanical elements to a particular incident that had none. As others have said, and I fully agree, the “knocked off / adjusting course” was a pure descriptor to indicate that the players got a good hit against the enemy. Unless the NPC specifically changed zone afterwards, there was no mechanical effect.

Where? The specific tasks listed for Starship combat are (per pg. 222):


  • Maneuver - Change Zone
  • Impulse - Change Zone
  • Warp - Change zone/Quit combat
  • Evasive Action - Harder to be hit
  • Attack Pattern - Easier to hit target


  • Plot Course - Makes travelling easier
  • Chart Hazard - Makes travelling though dangerous areas easier

Sure you can add some ad hoc task for the helm to recover from a blow, but this to me falls under Advantage/Complication rules which by their very nature are specific to the GM & Players in their own game.

You said this was in Shield of Tomorrow? There is also a key element you are overlooking, Eric and crew were playing a bit rough and ready with the rules. In fact there were times when there was deliberate misinterpretations of rules.

In Scenario 2 this is quite clear cut. There is a clear mechanical effect and the GM was in the wrong. Whether this was to error or deliberate cheating I do not know. Since you say the Conn officer used “his” task, I assume this wasn’t Shield of Tomorrow.

Did they both move and fire? It is still possible within the rules, but without having watched this scene I cannot say if this is what happened:

Ship 1

  • Maneuver - 1 Zone
  • Swift Task: Fire weapons

Retain Initiative

Ship 2

  • Maneuver - 1 Zone
  • Swift Task: Fire weapons

This would cost a fair amount of Threat on the GM’s part (at least 6, possibly more for additional dice to offset difficulty increases from overrides and swift tasks) but is possible.

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The first task you listed is the task specific for maneuvering. Just because it says that you can change zone, does not mean it is required when using the task. It says in the task that it allows you to move anywhere within medium range.

Yes, it is possible and yes it is expensive in the amount of threat used, but the GM did not to my knowledge spend the threat. Granted, this may have also been an error of the group still learning the game.

Keep in mind, I am not against the use of cinematic flavor, and plan to use it myself. I guess you could say that I am a bit of a ‘crunchy’ gamer. If there is a rule/mechanic for it, and it is not used by the GM deliberately without first discussing and agreeing to it, then it is a form of cheating and causes me to either lose interest in continuing to play, or makes me resentful and feel like my actions won’t matter anyway.

I know there are times when some rules are overlooked or forgotten in the middle of a game (especially if it is really late), and sometime mistakes are made. That is not what this subject is about, though.

A few of you have mentioned using advantages/complications for the course correction. I could possibly see this being used, but again, I don’t want to make the players feel like their tactics and strategy are meaningless (for example) by simply tossing threat out there after they have maneuvered into the ‘blindspot’ of a ship to have the enemy craft spin towards them in order to fire on them.

I would rather keep the advantages/complications to adjustments to target numbers for success than a sudden maneuver with no roll to determine how successful it was.

Regarding Scenario 1, unless the players performed some mechanical action that caused the enemy ship to list off – for example, spending Momentum to create a Complication for the enemy – then that, and the maneuvering back into position are both just flavourful description.

And I’d argue you kinda need that to keep things rolling, because space combat that’s just two ships still in space is boring. So long as they’re maintaining relative positioning – i.e. the same range unless something specifically happens to change that – it should be assumed that ships are constantly moving around one another, trying to angle for the best shot, or keep their strongest shields between them and then enemy. Putting that into the description is, at least in my mind, part of the GM’s job at the table.

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No task is required to move within close range, nor is there any mention of altering course. I honestly feel you are trying to add crunch when none is required.

I will say that by restricting Advantages/Complications to numerical +/- this severely undermines the flexibility and nuance that they can provide.

It isn’t meaningless at all. There are 3 ways of creating an advantage. A Task roll, Spending momentum after a successful task roll, or Determination. Thus the GM has had to roll and/or spend resources to overcome the obstacle the players put in front of them. Forcing the GM to react and adapt in some way is not meaningless.


This paragraph on Movement and Terrain on page 220 of the core rule book says otherwise.
Moving around in starship combat is the responsibility of a vessel’s Helmsman, and typically requires a Task, though these Tasks have a Difficulty of 0 under normal circumstances.

Unless you are trying to argue that all ships are sentient and can move on their own without needing to be directed by a pilot. Also, each of the following helm tasks specifically state adjusting course or position:
MANEUVER: The flight controller uses the ship’s thrusters to adjust position and moves to anywhere within Medium range.
IMPULSE: The flight controller uses the ship’s impulse engines to adjust position and move to anywhere within Long range. This has a Power Requirement of 1.

Having the players perform an evasive action or maneuvering task that they describe as piloting into a ship’s blindspot and attempting to stay there to prevent the enemy ship from getting a good firing solution on them where they succeed, then having said enemy with forward-facing weapons (without even spending threat) spin towards them without requiring any task or action and fire on the PCs because they are within close range using up only 1 enemy turn in combat, does in fact make their tactics and strategy meaningless.

Now, if the enemy ship has banks or arrays, then yes, that is a somewhat moot point. However, cannons are mostly fixed in place, with a few degrees movement. A PC ship behind an enemy craft with forward cannons like a Klingon Bird of Prey, (as in the examples) in that position would require a helm task from the BoP. At the very least, an Attack Pattern roll.