You near the warp translation point and notice a distinct change in attitude among the crew. They become hushed and pensive, going about their business without a word. Lit candles appear on the shrines at every corridor junction, and fresh wax appears dribbled across the Aquilas on all the airlocks. Red-robed Technomats scrutinise bulkheads and paneling with scanner-skulls for faults invisible to the un-augmented eye and morose war-hymns drift through the air-recyc vents across the ship.
Moments before translation, the ship comes to life.
Petty Officers on the bridge begin issuing orders to Deck Chiefs across the vessel, their consoles filling with green runes as deck crews report ready. The vessel shudders as massive adamantium shutters unfurl across all viewing ports across the ship, sealing up the guns and gracefully sliding down over the great observation windows of the bridge.
As the last light of Haimm’s baleful suns is shut out, emergency floor lights wash the bridge in a deep crimson. Tech adepts intoning in binary light candles and incense around the captain’s pulpit, flocked by clusters of illumination servo-skulls. Ministorum priests chanting hymns of salvation move up and down the rows of crews at their stations, their heads bowed in prayer.
The timbre of the plasma engine shifts up several octaves as power is sucked from the rest of the vessel and channeled into the arcane and impossibly powerful warp drive. You feel the collective psyche of every void-hardened crewman, rating, armsman and officer take a physical breath in. They hang on your word, Lord-Captain.
Taming the void
Our third session picked up exactly where we left our valiant crew; boldly sailing towards the warp point of the system of Haimm, ready to make their first proper warp translation into the Throat and the Nomad Stars beyond.
As everything was being explained about warp transit, I also posed the question about what might constitute a ‘good luck’ gesture on board the ship. All captains observe some kind of pre-warp ritual, be it excessive hymns, confiscating any items of chance from the crew (like cards or dice) or even blood sacrifice.
It was fairly quickly decided that the ‘good luck’ ritual would involve a massive salvo from the macrocannons and blaring out war-songs from the multi-band broadcasters out into space – not to pray to the Saints for luck or hope that the warp might grant them safe passage, but to angrily and loudly warn anything that exists beyond the veil of reality that the Unbroken Resolve was coming through, and you’d best get out of its way.
The energies of a thousand suns are expelled from the warp drive with a terrifying ethereal screech, tearing a hole in reality and hurtling the vessel through it.
The whole ship issues a guttural, primal roar as the impossible forces of the Empyrean bear down upon it. Millennia of human ship-building and the thin skin of the Gellar Field are all that protect every soul aboard the ship from being torn apart in a fraction of a second by the raw unholy energies of the warp.
You feel as though a bucket of ice water has been dumped over you, soaking you to the skin, and you can feel the tell-tale scratching at the corner of your consciousness as the malefic entities of the warp probe this new intruder into their realm.
The ship settles into its route, navigation of the vessel becomes re-routed from the controls on bridge through to the navigator’s chambers. Translation into the warp is complete.
The horrors of the warp
I wanted to play up the terrifying, unknowable nature of warp travel – it’s closer to 17th century sailing than Star Wars hyperspace or Star Trek warp speed. Every moment spent before, during and after such transits are fraught with peril, and no matter how much preparation you do, nothing can prepare you for one really bad warp transit roll.
We have a slightly homebrewed version of warp transit, partly from the Core Rulebook and partly from the expanded rules in the Navis Primer. The Core rules were a little too simple, and the Navis Primer too complex, so we compromised in a middle ground. We use the following;
1. Determine duration of passage
GM comes up with a duration, Navigator makes a Navigate (Warp) test to get a close estimate. A Detailed chart (either made by the players or purchased separately) provides a +20 bonus, a Basic chart gives +10.
2. Locate the Astronomican
Awareness +10 test, every DoS adds +10 to any further Navigate (Warp) tests and vice versa. 3+ Degrees of Failure indicate the Astronomican cannot be found, imposing a -60 on the Navigate (Warp) test for ‘Chart the course’.
3. Consult the instruments
For players: cross your fingers. This shit is a secret GM roll.
For the GM: Navigate (Warp) +10 test to detect any phenomena or turbulence on the journey ahead, granting a +20 bonus to any rolls on the Warp Travel Encounters table during the ‘Translate and steer the vessel’ stage if successful.
4. Translate and steer the vessel
Navigate (Warp) test (-60 if the Astronomican cannot be located) with modifiers for Route Stability.
If the test is failed and a ‘9’ is rolled on either dice, the GM fucks with their final destination.
Roll once on the ‘Warp Encounters’ table for each 5 (3) days in the warp. +20 on each roll if ‘Chart the course’ was successful.
5. Leave the warp
Navigate (Warp) -20 test. Failure indicates the ship is off-target and could land dangerously close to a planetary body or the incorrect side of the system.
We also use an expanded warp encounters table, growing it from a potential dozen to a more meaty 20 potential encounters. I’m a sucker for a good random encounter table, and it’s available on Dreadquill here.
As we don’t have a Navigator player character, we have an NPC navigator called Mahd’Naz, who has Navigate (Warp) and Awareness at 55. We agreed that as players we will take it in turns to roll for the hapless NPC rather than let the GM decide, as not only can the players use their Fate Points for a more favourable roll, but it’s way more fun to put the players’ fates in the players’ hands rather than me making a bunch of rolls in secret and telling everyone how much trouble they’re in.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on whose side you’re on) their first translation resulted in only a minor Gellar Field breach, causing mass hallucinations for a fraction of a moment and earning all the players a bunch of Corruption and Insanity points. This would serve as a convenient introduction to the warp, and make players wary about willy-nilly warp jumps in the future.
The rest of the journey was uneventful, and they were instructed that they were going to make a routine stop a few days into transit at one of the many rest stops in the Throat called the Battleground – a stretch of void with no significance other than its relative warp stability and its massive collection of battered warship corpses from a long-forgotten war, picked clean and floating adrift in a great cloud of jagged debris.
Wolves in the darkness
At this point, our prescient Astropath was tugging on the Captain’s shirt sleeves and reminding him of one of his visions – “Wolves lurk in the rest stops”. The Captain agreed to take it under advisement, just in time for a Bridge Officer to report a distress beacon coming from a nearby wreckage cloud.
It was a standard automated distress message from a verified pilgrim transport called the Penitent Traveller. Our Missionary, Lyoness, had heard of such a transport from her Ecclesiarchy days, and confirmed that it was likely a truthful distress beacon.
They were totally unresponsive to vox hails and knowing it would be a trap, the Captain gave the order to take the Resolve in slowly, keeping a very close eye on the long-range augers.
In a shocking display of salience, the augers pick up the energy signatures of two Raider-class plasma drives flaring into life. Although it was clearly a trap, our canny Captain and his band of eagle-eyed auger-monkeys managed to spot danger before it dropped onto their heads. It was time to roll for initiative and begin GLORIOUS SPACE BATTLE.
As this was everyone’s first foray into space combat, things would be a little slow as everyone gets to grips with how it works; it is at once familiar to ground combat yet very different. The turn order is the same – everyone takes turns based on Initiative order and can perform a limited number of actions (called Extended Actions in space combat) in their turn. The big kicker is that everyone on the ship will go ‘at the same time’ (each turn in space combat is about half an hour in-game time rather than the 10-ish seconds per turn in ground combat), so the team have to get to grips with what they’re good at and what they can do to help.
In this scenario, the teacakes were playing the part of particularly dense clusters of ship wreckage – very dangerous to fly through but extremely delicious. Not all the scenery made it to the end of the battle.
Ships must always move (even if just a little bit) and they cannot come to a complete standstill, as they’re massive megatonnes of ceramite and plasteel hurtling through space – that momentum can only really be redirected, never stopped. Part of space combat I enjoy is the pirouetting of vessels around one another as they try and manoeuvre into the perfect position to take advantage of their weapons or evade an enemy’s firing arc.
We are also using the community-driven changes to ship combat called MathHammer. The tl;dr is that ship armour now counts against each macrocannon hit, but armour is reduced by 12 to account for the change.
This means that combat is less reliant on a single massive alpha strike that glasses an enemy ship in an instant, and more on battles of attrition. It makes it easier for lesser ships to do progressive amounts of damage on larger ships, and allows players to better estimate how well a combat is going.
Battered and bloody
The battle started with both raiders heading directly towards the Unbroken Resolve, blasting away as soon as they got within range. This initial salvo from the Wolfpack raiders caused the most damage to the Resolve during the fight, and immediately reigned in any bravado anyone might have been feeling at that point.
One raider swept round trying to get behind the Resolve, the other going toe-to-toe. This turned out to be a bad move, as a combination of point blank macrocannon volleys from the Arch Militant and a particularly well executed hit and run from the Captain and Voidmaster left the raider crippled and its plasma drive on fire. It limped away into the debris field as the second ship swung in for the kill.
After seeing off the first Raider, attentions were now drawn to the mystery third party on the field: a small blip on the augers that had, up until now, been unidentified. It had been following the Resolve steadily and relentlessly, but wasn’t big enough to appear as a manned vessel.
After some panicked last-minute scanning, it was revealed to be a homemade Leech Mine from the Raiders – designed to follow specific plasma drive signatures and latch onto them, draining them of power. After realising it would be too small to reasonably shoot (and there was a more pressing target), the Enginseer fashioned a decoy out of obsolete parts he found in the cargo hold, programmed it with the plasma drive signature of their ship and fired it out into space. The gambit worked, distracting and neutralising the leech mine and allowing them to concentrate on the final raider.
Some fancy shooting and scary psychic powers from the Astropath damaged the second raider enough for it to withdraw, and with the Resolve sitting at less than 30% Hull remaining, the Captain decided not to pursue. It was time to see what the Penitent Traveller had in store.
They discover a few hundred pilgrims on board the broken transport ship, left alive by the pirates but starving and desperate for rescue. They had been heading to the Nomad Stars to answer the call of a crusade called by someone called Brother Espin. There used to be almost ten thousand when they arrived, the pirate raiders butchered them down to the bare minimum to appear as life forms on a prey-ship’s augers if they scanned the Traveller.
They agreed to join the crew of the ship, buffering the worst of the damage to the Resolve’s crew population and earning the crew a few brownie points with any members of the Ecclesiarchy they might bump into later on.
The best fighters among them pledged their swords to the Missionary, the person responsible for encouraging them to join on a new ‘crusade’ of sorts, kickstarting her retinue and giving her a dozen maniacs with chainswords to call to her service should she need them in future…
There was nothing left to loot from the Penitent Traveller, as anything of value had already been stripped by the pirates.
Satisfied there was nothing else they could do in the Battleground, the Captain gave the order to finish the jump to the Nomad Stars. They would not be arriving in the greatest of conditions to make another warp jump straight out to Gangue, so there was going to be a slight diversion to the nearest port to repair and resupply – Mercy.