Space Derelicts

© 2003 by Mike Fischer
Last modified: 06/25/2004

I. Introduction

This booklet includes supplemental rules for playing StarMarines with derelict spaceships.

"This place gives me the creeps," Menkovich muttered to himself. The gray floors, the gray ceiling, the sickly-blue walls, and above all, the silence of the dead freighter weighed on him.

"Shut up and keep the channel clear!" Sergeant Osaka was a stickler for radio discipline. He was also born and raised in the wide-open spaces of the New Frisco colony; he hated this environment even more than Menkovich did.

But orders were orders. Menkovich's team had the task of securing the engine room, making sure everything was shut down and safe. Easy work for any trained StarMarine. Not so easy when a party of unknown aliens was sneaking around in the same ship, presumably looking for loot. Singh's PARM squad had already exchanged shots with them in the darkened cargo bay. They'd surely try for the engine room sooner or later; the easiest way to loot a deserted spaceship is to make off with the whole ship.

They crept down the deserted hallway as quietly as they could, weapons at the ready. Now and then, the ancient ship's air blowers would grate over a stuck bearing, and the sudden noise would make everyone jump. O'Day had already wasted a few shots on imaginary aliens. You'd expect that of Rojas, the new guy. O'Day should know better.

They cautiously rounded a bend in the hallway and found the door to the engine room. By hand signals, Menkovich ordered Steinberger to cover the doorway with him, and Rojas to work the door controls as soon as the others were ready. He nodded. The door slid open.

The engine room was empty, quiet, and dark aside from the emergency lights near the floor. Indicators and controls shone brightly in the darkness. O'Day was the expert here. Without needing orders, he stepped to the main console and began pressing buttons.

A huge shadow stepped out of the auxiliary access passage and fired something. O'Day fell, wounded by the point-blank shot. His comrades returned fire in a well-trained reflex that mowed down the alien in a shower of gauss-rifle bullets. Several back-up indicators winked out, shattered by a stray shot.

They heard another alien step back and disappear into the access passage. They'd have to go in after him. Great, just great. Menkovich motioned for Rojas to cover the other end of the passage while he approached the near entrance and Steinberger attended to O'Day. As he neared the passage entrance, he got his first good look at the dead alien.

"Norx," Menkovich muttered. "I hate Norx."

Outer space is vast, inconceivably vast. If a spaceship meets with misfortune in the interstellar vacuum and doesn't get off a distress call, the odds of anyone finding that ship aren't even worth calculating. But now and then, such a ship does get found, either due to an automatic beacon, some other still-functioning system, or (most likely) pure luck. And when a derelict ship is found, it usually triggers a sort of feeding frenzy among all the nearby races. After all, the rule for abandoned ships and their cargo is "finders keepers."

But finding and keeping are two very different things. Unlike battlefields in open terrain, the silent corridors of a dead ship keep your soldiers from knowing where their enemies are. Every corner, every door may become an ambush. Tactics vary according to the situation. Sometimes you'll just send in your troops to find a particular item of cargo, grab it, and go. Sometimes you'll have to take over the ship's bridge or engineering spaces, to bring the ship home or to keep another race from making off with it. And sometimes your mission is simple extermination.

This rule book is an optional supplement to StarMarines. It is meant to be used with the special M8 maps for spaceship interiors (maps #89-99), but you can try other ship-interior maps if you want.

II. The Maps

  1. Bridge is a ship's control center. If one soldier spends an entire turn in the captain's chair in the center, and another soldier spends a turn in any other chair, neither moving nor attacking, they can do one of the following once per turn (roll a die to see which one):
    1. Turn the ship's gravity on or off.
    2. Engage navigation and set a course for the ship. The ship must already be moving.
    3. Start the ship moving.
    4. Turn the ship's interior lights on or off.
    5. Open or close one door.
    6. Turn on one security camera for a moment. The other player must identify one of his question-markers, either the type of soldier, or the fact that the marker is a dummy.
  2. Cargo Hold has a suspended catwalk running above a sunken floor. It takes 2 move units (3 for power-armored soldiers) to go up or down one of the two staircases. Set into the floor is a large air lock which serves as a cargo loading hatch. Soldiers can pass under the catwalk. A soldier on the floor is at -1 to-hit shooting up at the catwalk. Close-combat weapons can't hit from floor to catwalk or vice-versa.

    Included on this map sheet are many cargo items, used on this map and any other map with cargo space.

  3. Officers' Quarters has two cabins for the captain and first officer, a access shaft to the the below-decks area, and a recreation area. This rec deck is often used for zero-gravity exercises. The control panel in hex #0600 can turn the gravity in the enclosed rectangular area on or off, independently of gravity in the rest of the ship. A rest room and a closet for game equipment are also next to this area.

  4. Crew Quarters has five cabins, a bathroom, and a lounge with simple galley.

  5. Life-Support Area includes the air-purification machinery (two devices with fans) and the artificial-gravity equipment (lots of black squares and colored lights). A soldier can turn either of these devices on or off in one turn. You will also find two cryogenic sleep cells, a ladder up to the auxiliary control room, and a small cargo bay here. Only Leaders and Heroes can operate the cryo sleep-cell controls.

    This map also includes one matter-transporter booth. Each turn, one soldier can enter this booth and instantly move to the other booth in map #094, or vice-versa. The booths can transport one cargo container per turn if they don't move a soldier. They won't work if a soldier or cargo container remains in a booth after transporting.

    The Auxiliary Control Room is an emergency bridge. A soldier who spends an entire turn in one of the chairs can block any of the die-roll functions of the bridge if he rolls a 4-6.

  6. Escape-Pod Area has the other matter-transporter booth and six emergency escape pods for crew and passengers.

  7. Passenger Area has two luxury staterooms for paying passengers, a service area that includes kitchen and laundry facilities, and a linen-closet area.

  8. Power Generators provide the energy to run the ship's systems. There are two of them, and they are solid enough to resist any weapons. This area has two belowdecks passages (each made from sections of safety-tread hexes). The coolers at the end of these passages can be turned on or off by any soldier. Once both are off, the ship will eventually lose power. At the start of each turn with both coolers off, roll two dice; a 2 or 12 means the generators have overheated and ship's power has failed. See map 091 for rules about belowdecks movement.

  9. Ship's Stores holds row after darkened row of cabinets and compartments for freeze-dried food, extra clothing, spare parts, and everything else a ship and crew might need on a long voyage.

  10. Sickbay is an automated medical facility with two beds. If a soldier brings a wounded friend to a sick-bay bed, for each turn that soldier is in the bed there, roll a die; a 5-6 means the "auto-doc" has patched the soldier up and he is no longer wounded. Carrying a wounded soldier means you can move 1 hex/turn, regardless. This area also has six escape pods.

  11. Engine Room has the controls for the main engines. If one soldier spends an uninterrupted turn at the central console and another at any other control panel, they can shut down the engines in one turn and keep the ship from moving, or turn them on again in two turns if an enemy has shut them off. This map sheet also includes all the air locks you're likely to need for the other maps.

II-a. Cargo Containers

There are several different kinds of cargo. These can be the object of a search, they can give cover to soldiers, or they can just be in the way. Place these containers in cargo areas according to the scenario rules, or as you see fit.

A soldier can climb onto or over a cargo container at no movement penalty. In zero gravity, one soldier can move one cargo container at no move penalty beyond the normal no-gravity penalty, but he can't do so and attack in the same turn.

II-b. Ship Systems

Certain maps allow you to turn ship systems on or off. These systems are normally on.

III. Setting Up for a Derelict-Spaceship Battle

First, arrange the maps. Several sample ships are provided in the "Scenarios" section, or you can make your own. The following rules must be obeyed when making a spaceship:
  1. Every ship must have a bridge and an engine room.
  2. You must have at least one air lock for every three map modules. The large cargo-bay lock counts as one air lock.
  3. Any hall that ends at the edge of the ship becomes an air lock.
  4. All doors (yellow-and-black lines along a hex edge) are closed at the start of the game, with DOOR markers on them.
  5. All ship's systems are turned on and working normally. The ship is not moving.
Next, you must choose your soldiers. The big difference between spaceship battles and other fights is that, on a spaceship, vehicles are not allowed. Also, airborne soldiers can't fly on a spaceship. And heavy weapons are right out -- no one, not even a Norx, thinks it's a good idea to fire such weapons inside a relatively fragile spaceship. So your troops will be arranged differently from normal.

The normal complement for boarding a spaceship is an augmented level-2 formation. Such formations follow the various races' rules for level-2 groups, with the following changes:

If the scenario calls for it, place one player's soldiers in various places on the ship. If it's a scenario where both sides board at once, no soldiers start on the map, except in the air locks.

IV. Movement in a Spaceship

The big problem for soldiers moving around in a spaceship is that you can't see through walls. Where is the enemy? Where did they post their heavy soldiers? What was that noise?

The derelict-spaceship rules address these problems with a hidden-movement system. Every soldier is represented on the map, not by his counter, but by a special marker called a question marker. These markers are numbered, and each number corresponds to a number on a soldiers' track sheet, which you should keep the other player from seeing. You can look at a marker, check the track sheet, and know which soldier is really there. But your opponent won't know. Choose which color, blue or yellow, will represent your soldiers. Each player gets one track sheet.

To add to the fog of war, you get more question markers than you'll ever need. You use these extras on the map as dummies, to represent places where your soldiers might be, to keep the enemy guessing. You can put these on the map at any time, in any place where an enemy soldier can't see them, or take them off at will. You can move them as if they were soldiers, or leave them on "guard duty," or do anything else a soldier could do, to confuse the other player. For instance, you can put one question marker on top of another, move one, and leave the other. Which one is the soldier and which is the dummy? You know; the other guy doesn't. Maybe they're both dummies. If a hallway forks, you can send equal-strength patrols down both branches, and only you know which "patrol" is real.

When soldiers are in sight of each other, the question markers come off and get replaced by the real soldier counters. If one of the "soldiers" is really a dummy, take it off the map. It may happen that a dummy marker meets an enemy dummy marker. In that case, remove them both.

After an encounter ends, replace the soldiers with question markers again. It's smart to replace them with different-numbered markers, so the other player can't make a mental note that (for example) marker #11 is your Sergeant.

All doors are closed at the start of the battle. Soldiers cannot enter a hex through a DOOR marker; they must open the door first. It takes one move unit to open a door, or to close it again, from an adjacent hex.

It takes one extra move unit to enter a hex with a blue chair (these are usually next to control consoles).

There are ladders in some of the spaceship maps. It takes 2 move units for a soldier to go up or down a ladder. Soldiers in heavy armor, powered or otherwise, cannot use ladders. Neither can soldiers who don't normally move on two legs, like Saur Styros or most Swarm things.

Ladders that go below main deck level lead to small, cramped access passages. No soldier can move more than 1 hex/turn in such passages. Ranged weapons are at -1 to-hit here, and close-combat weapons are at -1 damage. Spaces above main deck level have normal rules for movement and combat.

Any corridor that ends at the edge of the map becomes an air lock; place an air lock from map #099 next to that hex. The rules for air locks are as follows:

  1. An air lock can hold two soldiers for each hex it contains.
  2. One soldier can leave an air-lock hex and enter an adjacent map hex each turn; this takes one move unit.
  3. After an air lock empties, it takes one turn to restore air pressure and take in more soldiers.
  4. Thus, a standard one-hex air lock can hold two soldiers, and works as follows:
    • on the first turn, one soldier leaves the lock.
    • on the second turn, the other soldier leaves.
    • on the third turn, two more soldiers enter the lock.
  5. The big cargo lock in map #090 works the same way, but in triples -- it holds six men, and three can leave at a time. In this case, leaving the air lock means standing on the lock, not in an adjacent hex.

V. Combat on a Spaceship

Soldiers fight each other normally on a ship. Two soldiers can shoot down a corridor with ranged weapons (one standing, and one kneeling in front of him), but only one can fight with a close-combat weapon. Walls are thick cover, and consoles are light cover. A soldier climbing a ladder is in thick cover to soldiers above him, but is in no cover to those below him.

A soldier who fails his morale check on a spaceship will run straight away from the last enemy he saw. There is no map edge, no way off the ship, so he will keep running until he hits a dead end (in which case he stops) or finds another enemy (in which case he turns and runs the other way). A broken soldier who cannot move will freeze.

VI. Scenarios

Scenario 1: the scout ship Rebecca Lee
< 089 >
< 092 >
< 090 >
< 099 >
The small scout ship Rebecca Lee, long overdue from a deep probe mission and presumed lost, has shown up on planetary radar. She does not answer any hails, and all on board are presumed dead. Two races want to board her and capture her so the computer logs of her journey can be thoroughly analyzed.
One race can use the two air locks on the left side, and the other gets the locks on the right.

Each player's goal is to free the bridge of enemies, get the ship moving, engage navigation, and keep things that way for three consecutive turns.

Scenario 2: the light freighter Joshua LaGoon
    < 089 >
  >-< 090 >-<
< 093 >-< 091 >
    < 099 >
(Maps marked with a star must be rotated 180°.) The small freighter Joshua LaGoon, often chartered for smuggling and gunrunning, has been hijacked by an alien race. They stranded the crew on a barely-habitable planetoid and were halfway to their home system when the engines failed, victims of poor maintenance. Now the LaGoon is drifting, and the owners' race has sent a boarding party to reclaim it. Both sides want to gain control of the freighter so a friendly ship can take it in tow.
Player 2 starts the game with all his soldiers on the map. You must divide your question markers as evenly as possible across the map sections, and no soldier can start closer than 3 hexes from any air lock. Player 1 can use any air locks.

Each player's goal is to wipe out the other side.

Scenario 3: the private yacht Song of Abigail
    < 089 >
  >-< 095 >-<
< 090 >-< 098 >
  >-< 092 >-<
  >-< 097 >-<
    < 099 >
(Maps marked with a star must be rotated 180°.) The Song of Abigail, William Gates XIV's luxurious private space yacht, has been boarded by pirates while returning from its most recent upgrade. They spaced the crew, grabbed whatever valuables they could find, and left the ship to drift. But they missed the greatest valuable, the source code for the newest version of Microsoft Windux, hidden somewhere on board. Whoever finds the data module with the source code can name his own price.
Ask a neutral person to make a pen mark on the back of one random cargo container. Put one container in each room and chamber on the ship. For instance, on map 095, each stateroom counts as a room, each bathroom is another room, and the galley and laundry areas count as two rooms. Do about half of the escape pods, not all of them. Put a few in back passageways like the one in the bottom of the engine-room map, too. Spread the leftover freight containers in the cargo bays, widely spaced apart. These containers represent places where the data module might be hidden.

One player uses the air locks on the left side of the ship, and the other player uses the locks on the right; nobody uses the cargo-bay lock. It takes 1 turn for a soldier to check out one adjacent container. Each time a soldier does so, turn the container over. If it's the one with the mark, he found it! If not, remove it from the map. Once the data module has been found, the soldier who found it must return to one of his army's air locks, and his team wins. Obviously, if one side wipes out the other, they can find the data module at their leisure, so you can win that way, too. If the soldier who found the module is killed before he can reach a friendly air lock, the data module is presumed destroyed by the bullet or blade that killed him, and the game is a draw.

Scenario 4: the fast transport Alden Drive
    < 089 >
    < 094 >
  >-< 092 >-<
  >-< 095 >-<
< 097 >-<*095*>
  >-< 091 >-<
<*092*>-< 098 >
  >-<     >-<
< 090 > < 090 >
  >-<     >-<
< 099 > < 099 >
  >-<     >-<
(Maps marked with a star must be rotated 180°.) The Alden Drive was on a routine trading run between Earth III and the Victor trading station on Ursula Major IV when something bad happened. It was carrying a full cargo, from the mundane (drums of olive oil) to the exotic (melanite crystals from Tangeria that crumble to dust if exposed to light). This cargo is worth a fortune. And everybody knows it. "Finders keepers" is about to turn very deadly.
Spend 35 points on soldiers and weapons. One player sets up his soldiers on the map, spreading them as evenly as possible. None of these soldiers can be closer than three hexes from any air lock at the start. The other player can use any and all air locks. Your goal is to wipe each other out.

Scenario 5: the Victor Trader ship Mork Swax
      >-< 089 >-<
    < 090 >-< 097 >
      >-< 093 >-<
  >-< 094 >-< 092 >-<
< 095 >-< 094 >-<*092*>
  >-<*096*>-< 098 >-<
< 099 >-< 091 >-< 099 >
  >-<     >-<     >-<
(Maps marked with a star must be rotated 180°.) This squat, unattractive freight hauler served a monotonous, uneventful career in various star systems for almost forty years, and then suddenly disappeared. That was almost a century ago, and now it has reappeared as mysteriously as it vanished. The escape pods are gone, but no one knows where the crew went, or why. This ship holds some secrets, and more than one racial government wants to solve them.
The cargo areas should be less than half full of various cargo containers. One player uses the air locks (including the cargo-bay air lock) on the left side of the ship, and the other player uses the locks on the right. At the end of 16 turns, whoever has sole possession of the most map sections (one or more real soldiers there, and no enemy question markers, real or fake) is the winner. In this game, dummy markers cannot be placed anywhere on the map, but can enter only via an air lock or next to a soldier.

VII. Designer's Notes

These rules and maps were obviously inspired by the Space Hulk and Space Crusade games, and given a StarMarines twist. Does my game need another expansion rule set? Well, the hidden-movement rules give the game a very different flavor, with a level of suspense that isn't there in an open-field battle. And drawing the maps was a challenge I felt I had to take, and that meant I needed rules to use them. In the end, the answer is, "What the heck, it was fun!"