Monday, March 4, 2019

Mapping with Playing Cards Part 2: Spaceships and Stations

In the last post, we covered basic rules for mapping a city using playing cards.

Now let's look at how we can apply this system to constructing ships and stations in sci-fi games. This can apply to stations-as-dungeons that are drifting through the dark reaches of space for players to explore, or it might apply to the ships players themselves commandeer or construct.

Example Ship: Osprey, Scouting Science Vessel
Lightly armed, with an advanced cockpit and various science modules. Small crew quarters, multiple engines provide maneuverability and initiative.

Cockpit: King of Spades (High-Tech bridge with advanced scanning capabilities).

Weapons: Two of Clubs (Ion Stun Beam temporarily disables one card of an enemy ship). Seven of Clubs (Standard Laser Cannon).

Crew Quarters: Eight of Hearts (A spacious crew area that has to pull double duty as specimen storage.)

Engines: Five of Diamonds, Eight of Diamonds (Two engines combine their capabilities but costs lots of fuel).

Science Modules: Ten of Spades (Cloaking Device). Nine of Spades (Specimen Lab). Eight of Spades (Tractor Beam).

The key to this system is interpretation. What looks like a pile of cards could become a ship if looked at from a new angle. Your ships will end up a little strange, and that's good: idiosyncrasy leads to interest. Every imperfection is a story.

-Function: Diamonds are engines, Hearts are luxury/storage, Clubs are weapons, Spades are tech/science. (or any other interpretation, point is to have all the major functions covered.

-The highest value face-card of a ship is its cockpit.
-Effectiveness: For Engines, this might affect initiative and maneuvers. For Weapons, this affects damage. For Tech modules, this gives them more interesting and potent capabilities. For Storage, affects space.
-Hull armor: When a weapon attacks this section, the damage is the difference between the weapon's number and the target card's number. If a card takes damage, subtract it from the card's number and then place a new card over it that reflects the new number (to track damage). -Oxygen levels, Light levels, or Radiation levels: (best for space dungeons).

-Can use the same rules from the previous post (multiples of 3 split in a +, multiples of 4 split in a T, multiples of 5 split in a Y).

Example Station: Docking Bay XV-07

A large, abandoned station drifting through space. Various docking ports still remain. The crew of the Osprey (not shown) decides to dock at the Ace of Spades, and search the station to try and find out why it was abandoned.

The atmospheric regulators in Docking Bay XV-07 have been broken for quite a while, so we'll have the numbers represent Oxygen levels, which have been leaking around the edges of the station.

Within the station they discover a cargo room (Seven of Diamonds), and a military barracks full of energy weapons (Jack of Clubs), but their true goal, information as to the station's downfall, eludes them. They continue deeper down the silent, abandoned hallways (face-down cards)...

Example: Ship-To-Ship Combat

In these images, a pirate vessel (the leftmost ship, bristling with guns and tech modules) ambushes a luxury cruiser (the rightmost ship, much more lightly armed and carrying valuable trade goods).Both ships roll initiative. The pirate vessel wins and goes first.
The pirate vessel rams the luxury cruiser. There are two points of contact. The first is the 9 of Clubs (laser cannon) vs. the 4 of hearts (viewport). The difference between the two cards gets dealt to the weaker one: the viewport takes 5 damage and gets completely shattered. The second point of contact is a highly-armored storage vault (9 of diamonds) vs. a forward scanner (6 of Spades): the forward scanner takes 3 damage and its effectiveness is decreased.
The luxury cruiser then gets to act. It moves away from the pirate vessel before any pirates could board, faces the direction of its jump coordinates, and begins charging its lightspeed drive.
The two ships roll initiative for the next round. The pirate ship wins again. It fires its forward laser cannon (9 of Clubs) at the luxury cruiser's own forward scanner (4 of Spades), dealing 5 damage and destroying it.
The luxury cruiser's small laser turret (2 of clubs) is no longer attached to the rest of the ship! It sails off into the inky darkness of space. The luxury vessel's lightspeed drive is done charging, and it jumps away, badly damaged and leaking oxygen. The pirate vessel could scavenge the debris left behind by the destroyed modules, or it could try to give chase with its high-tech scanning and detection equipment.

Example: Shipyard Upgrades

The crew of the Winter Orphanim Omega, a mercenary vessel, has docked in a shipyard for repairs and upgrades after completing a lucrative bounty. In a line on the right are the upgrades the shipyard has for sale, which were randomly drawn from the deck.

They decide to upgrade their forward scanner (6 of Spades) to a long-range system scanner (10 of Spades). They also purchase a luxury storage unit, something they've realized they badly needed after not having the storage space to pick up the valuable debris their bounty target jettisoned into space. They were also looking for an upgrade to their engines (4 of Diamonds), but unfortunately, the shipyard didn't offer any.

This post ended up being a lot longer and more extensive than I had originally thought. Thinking about expanding this into a full system, and then putting that system up on drivethru, with a bunch of tables and infographics. Is that something you might be interested in?


  1. Yes. Extremely yes. Tables good. Ship construction good. Many games I like (Mothership, Traveller, etc) all need ships. Alternate ship rules are always cool!

  2. I love all of this. The face-down cards as hidden rooms, the way cards easily allow rectilinear spaces to connect at interesting angles, randomly generated shipyard upgrades...

    damn now I want to play an open-table picaresque inspired by FTL, with either Mothership or Lasers & Feelings as the base game.

    1. FTL came to mind for me as well.

      This is seriously amazing! You've managed to find two (and I imagine you have more) ways to use cards with essentially one mechanic, that is so novel, so simple, and so brilliant, all at the same time. This could really be a game changer (pun intended)!

      I don't know if this is where you're going, but I'm intrigued to see if this gets mapped to a character system. Looking at some of those ships makes me think of inventory slots in computer RPGs like Diablo...

      I'm also wondering if/how this mechanic could be applied in slightly modified ways, like dominoes or mahjong tiles instead of cards (which might also fit more easily onto a grid), or coins (likewise for square or hex grid), or non-standard cards (hanafuda or oicho kabu or tarot).

      Anyway ya, it takes a lot to impress me with mechanics, I've never been shy about the fact that I'm generally more interested in storytelling and worldbuilding, but this is really brilliant and has me excited about mechanics in a way I haven't been in a long time.

    2. Character creation with cards would certainly be interesting! Maybe do a Tarot-reading-style thing to map out the character's life events, then arrange those in a way that turns the card reading into a character sheet?

  3. I think this is fantastic. I'm going to use it and I'm already inspired to modify it to do a version for sailing ships with cannons and masts. Keep creating!

    1. Thank you! You should totally do it and ping me so I can see it, once it's done!

  4. This is great! Have you ever heard of the game Galaxy Trucker? It features a very similar tile-base ship construction system.