Happy New Year! It's been a long time, but much has been going on behind the scenes. Not only has a great deal of work gone into this new version of Stardust's ruleset, but if the title of this announcement hasn't given it away, we now have a fully functional Steam Workshop page for Stardust in Tabletop Simulator! So let's break down how to get playing in TTS, what's new with the game, and what's in store for the future for Stardust. This is going to be a long article, so for those who just want to jump in and start playing, the info on the TTS mod is just below.
How to get started with Tabletop Simulator
First, you obviously need to own Tabletop Simulator on Steam in order to play Stardust on TTS.
Once TTS is installed, simply subscribe to the Steam Workshop listing here.
Finally, in order to get access to the rulebook and all its updates, you'll need to subscribe as a Voidfarer here.
Once you have the rulebook, and you're subscribed to the Workshop listing, everything should just work. You can load the mod up in TTS and get to playing!
I cannot overstate how exciting it is to be able to finally play Stardust anywhere, anytime, with anyone you want. We will continue building on both the digital and physical foundations simultaneously. A couple of things to note:
First, due to limitations with Tabletop Simulator, many of the models are highly compressed, and may have faulty normal maps that make them look a bit wonky in-game. I will eventually solve this problem over time, but my main priority was to get everything playable.
Second are the ship bases themselves. They currently don't have a built-in provision for denoting elevation, so if you choose to play with the Elevation Optional Rule, you will need to use an additional d6 die to mark a ship's elevation at this time.
Each ship base has a digital counter on it. This is what you use to track Momentum. Additionally, you will notice that each ship model has 6 States stored. These are to mark the ship's Momentum Vector, and they are stored in clockwise order. State 1 is forward, state 2 is front right, state 3 is rear right, and so on. Simply place your cursor over a ship and press the corresponding number key to change the vector marker to the desired hex face.
What's new in V0.79.1?
Ship cards have been pared down to essential information, and the more specific information about weapons, ship abilities, and so on have been moved to smaller cards that simply attach to the ship cards. This way, you can have a handful of ship cards stacked together, with only one set of the smaller informational cards to give precise information about a ship's capabilities.
In the real world, this means rather than having a maximum of 2 ship cards for a single sheet of paper, you can have up to 8 ship cards on a single sheet of paper. In the digital world of TTS, it is of course far more space efficient as well.
Tons of balancing changes! Various ship abilities have been changed in cost to better reflect their gameplay value. Weapons are no longer grouped and fired together in a single attack by type, rather firing individually. This provides a significant buff to ships which have one large weapon, rather than two or more smaller weapons.
Take for instance two Medium Sniper Lasers vs. a single Heavy Sniper Laser. Each Medium Sniper Laser deals a flat 5 damage each, while the Heavy deals a 10/3+ damage, so 10 damage with an 80% chance to deal an extra damage. In previous versions of the game, a ship with two of the same weapon would fire both in the same attack, combining their damage together.
Before, if you hit a ship with both the Medium and Heavy Lasers, and the ship passes its Armor Save, you'd divide the combined damage of 10 and 11 by half, rounded down. This would result in the same result of 5 damage for both weapons, regardless if the Heavy Laser got the extra point of damage or not. For a weapon that costs more to equip than the two Mediums, there really wasn't a noticeable advantage to using a Heavy weapon over two Mediums of the same type.
Now, however, because you roll each attack separately, two Medium Lasers could result in 0, 2, 4, 5, 7, or 10 damage, while the Heavy Laser is either 0, 5, 10, or 11 damage, meaning the average damage output of the Heavy Laser is now nearly 2 points higher. However, because you get 2 attacks with the Mediums, the damage output will be lower, but more consistent. In short, you now have different reasons to want one or the other.
Also new is a completely new Dodge Value system. Before, how you moved during your ship's activation determined how hard it was to hit your ship during combat. The more thrust and maneuvering points you used, the harder it was for people to hit you. The problem with that is it took much of the simple freedom of the movement system and forced you to contrive your movements in order to maximize your defense. Along those lines, the Evade action was essentially just the default action, which I didn't want to be the case.
The Movement Modifier system is gone. In it's place is a new Pilot Skill system to replace the old one. Now, after your movement, a ship must decide its Defensive State. A ship's Defensive State is a number stat that can range from zero up to that ship's Pilot Skill value. The Defensive State value works the same way as the Movement Modifier did, in that it makes attacks against you harder by the amount of that value.
When you make attacks of your own, you subtract your Defensive State from your Pilot Skill. Essentially, you are choosing between committing to offense, or committing to defense. The higher the Pilot Skill of that ship, the more flexible they can be, allowing them to commit to a measure of offense and defense without sacrificing too much of either.
As for the Evade action, all it does now is add 1 point to the Defensive State value. Because the Defensive State is always subtracted from the Pilot Skill when attacking, even if you commit to a Defensive State of zero, then choose to evade, you're still subtracting 1 from your Pilot Skill. Essentially this means that the only time this is useful, is when you have already committed to your maximum available Defensive State, where Evade will give you an extra Defensive State point, at the expense of a -1 Pilot Skill value when attacking, as opposed to simply zero. This basically just means that Evade has a specific use case, and isn't the "default" action to take while playing.
As an aside, looking back at why I did the original Movement Modifier system the way I did, it provides a really good example of how trying to be too authentic to the realities of space combat only held the game back. Yes, how a ship accelerates and changes position from its original vector is a determining factor in how difficult it is to hit in reality. In terms of gameplay however, it was a clunky system that was overly mentally taxing to the players. Fighter combat is highly reactive, you're making decisions based on your current situation, but the Movement Modifier system forced players to have to plan their movement several turns ahead of time, because they needed to be able to maximize their Movement Modifier. This made it nearly impossible to play with a lot of ships on the board at once, as there was too much mental load on the players.
The game should assume the pilot knows what they are doing. You shouldn't need to micromanage these kinds of things as a player, because that's the pilot's job. You should get to do the fun things, like make tactical decisions, maneuver in cool ways, and blow up the bad guys. The Defensive State system essentially embraces that idea. All you have to do is decide if the pilot wants to commit offensive or turn defensive, and the game system assumes the pilot just does what they need to do in that case. It's more fun that way.
New gameplay mechanics
Hyperlanes have been added to the game as a playable mechanic!
Multi-level space combat games like Stardust have additional exciting opportunities for interesting battlefield terrain, tile blockers, phenomena, and modifiers. Therefore, a lot of effort has gone into the various wrinkles that terrain can offer, such as dust clouds, asteroid fields, debris, minefields, and now the mysterious Hyperlanes.
Hyperlanes are pretty simple. They block all line of sight, and when you enter one, you can exit at any point along the Hyperlane, facing in any direction, then finish your movement. This can be a really interesting way to escape a really bad situation, or use it to rapidly and unpredictably flank your enemy. We'll be very interested to see how it gets used during gameplay.
Each faction has gained at least two new miniatures each, doubling the existing total. Because I was feeling generous (I already had a variant of the D-20 Basilisk model suited for the purpose), the Empyrean Commonwealth has actually received three new units, bringing their total to five. The Sibylean Knighthood has also received an additional variant of a new ship.
K-3E Lancer II: Just barely considered a small ship by the standards of the time, the Lancer II is a triple-crewed heavy interceptor built to succeed the original Lancer sloop-of-war from the time of the Novani blockade of Sibyl. It is armed much the same as the original, with a fixed forward Medium Sniper Laser, and two turreted Light Lasers for point defense, one forward and one aft. While not particularly maneuverable, it is exceptionally well-armored and durable. For strike duties, it also features a bay with a capacity of up to six ASM-2A anti-ship missiles.
K-4C Shortsword: A light fighter designed to escort Lancer IIs, it is by Sibylean standards somewhat lightly armored, but makes up for this deficiency with best-in-class maneuverability and a primary weapon set of twin Medium Lasers. It is also capable of carrying four ASM-2A missiles to satisfy Sibylean requirements for multirole capability.
K-4C-M Shortsword: A stripped down variant of the K-4C that removes it's internal missile bay, and focuses entirely on dogfighting.
Dav-17-3 Sphinx: A purpose-built dogfighter that aims to get in close and personal. Exceptionally fast and well-armored, it features a powerful weapons loadout of a Heavy Plasma Projector as well as a Rotary Medium Plasma Cannon, which can be fired simultaneously at a single target for high damage potential.
ErDa-116-1 Tempest: A light, versatile multirole fighter with blistering speed and agility. While its weapon set of a single Medium Plasma Cannon, and up to 6 TAM-9X missiles may leave something to be desired for some pilots, nothing can run from or out-maneuver the Tempest.
P-13A3 Hussar: A lot of ordnance crammed into a very small package. Somewhat ponderous and not particularly well-armored, its only self-defense comes from twin Light Autocannons and twin anti-fighter missiles. The rest of the weaponry is devoted to up to eight anti-ship missiles.
W-21A1 Dragoon: A heavy multirole fighter conceived through unscrupulous means, the Dragoon is the most advanced and capable fighter possessed by the Guard, and its price tag reflects it. The Dragoon is extremely well-armored while remaining fairly maneuverable, and even still it possesses a competent weapons package in a well-balanced trifecta. A Heavy ECLG Gun is rounded out by twin Light Lasers, and up to four S-110C anti-fighter missiles. Notable is its automated targeting suite, which allows the ship to independently engage threats with the turreted lasers while the pilot engages with the ship's other weapons.
Geminese Self-Defense Force
Note: the M-68 has been removed from the game, to be replaced by 3 new fighters.
M-67 Mk. III "Harpy": A bit of an odd duck within the Geminese Self-Defense Force, it is unique as being one of only a handful of fighters that specializes in either pure dogfighting, or pure strike capability, depending on its pre-mission outfitting. Although somewhat slow to accelerate, it is highly agile and reasonably well-protected. It wields a set of twin Medium Railguns for a versatile, all-range punch, with provisions for twin anti-fighter missiles for close-in defense.
M-71 Mk. I "Dolphin": A thoroughbred light interceptor, the M-71, reporting name Dolphin is one of the most visually unique fighters in The Bary, with the cockpit fully encased within the armored hull. Notable are its variable geometry wings, consistent with most Geminese strike craft, and a gargantuan spinally-mounted Heavy Coilgun running the length of the fighter. For point defense, it mounts twin Light Railguns, and it features an internal brace that slaves the point of aim of all three weapons together, allowing all three weapons to be fired simultaneously at the same target with excellent accuracy.
M-72 Mk. I "Sparrow": A somewhat hastily-made modification to a prototype interceptor voidframe then rushed into service, the Sparrow was born an interceptor, yet destined for the strike mission role. Mounting only twin Light Railguns and a handful of missiles for defense, the rest of the Sparrow's internal bays have been dedicated to up to ten anti-ship missiles. However, it retains good acceleration and protection from it's earlier interceptor DNA.
B-24B Minotaur: A dedicated Fighter-Bomber, the Minotaur sacrifices most all defensive abilities to achieve maximum strike capability. Slow to accelerate, extremely ponderous, and only having provisions for two anti-fighter missiles, the bulky, armored hull of the Minotaur carries up to ten anti-ship missiles, and a Medium Particle Lance for heavy anti-ship strikes on corvettes, frigates, and destroyers.
M-18E Chimera: A flexible, well-engineered Heavy Multirole fighter. Fast, agile, well-armored, and rounded out with a flexible and powerful Heavy Particle Lance and space for up to 4 missiles, there are few missions a Chimera can't perform, and fewer still it doesn't excel at.
S-20B Strike Basilisk: A heavy modification to the D-20 Basilisk voidframe, replacing the original retrograde thrusters with large, boxy thruster pods containing slightly larger internal weapons bays, but more crucially, much better protection for those weapons bays. Significantly less maneuverable than it's older sister, it mounts only two more missiles than before, but the extensive modifications to the voidframe have resulted in a sturdier strike craft, backed by the Commonwealth's superior armor compounds. It retains the original twin Light Particle Lances of the original.
What's in the future for Stardust?
Naturally, we have a lot of things we'd like to do, and we're currently discussing all sorts of ideas internally, as well as with our friends in the tabletop scene.
Foremost, we'd love to offer professionally printed rulebooks, as well as offer resin miniatures for sale, along with various gameplay items, most notably the miniature bases themselves. We've gone back and forth on how we'd like to manufacture the bases, and one interesting idea raised to us has been to fabricate the bases from colored acrylic. Given the many moving parts in the bases, along with how important the readability of the bases is to gameplay, a material like acrylic would be perfect for the task. This is definitely on our radar.
It may also be possible to have decal sheets printed for the miniatures in the future. Given the vastness of The Bary and beyond, there are many stories to be told, and there is surely no limit to the decals that could be made.
Of course, there will always be more miniatures. Currently, only the Empyrean Commonwealth has a full lineup of strike craft options, so making sure every faction has that full range available to them is a key goal. That doesn't mean we'll stop there, of course.
An overhaul of the visuals of the rulebook will be in the works. While we have reformatted it to the standard double column TTRPG / wargaming rulebook format, we have yet to actually make the book look pretty, despite being very far along in terms of mechanical refinement and just how many miniatures are available. Faith is on this task in her spare time. This is a step that must be completed before we offer the rulebook in print.
The same goes for all the game materials. While perfectly functional and a far cry from prototype chicken scratch handwriting on paper, before this game is ready to actually be sold in game stores around the world, all the game materials such as the ship cards, item cards, and so on, will need a graphic design overhaul.
None of this will impact continued game development and refinement, but we could certainly use your help! Become a Voidfarer, join our Discord server, and help us play-test. We'll be running playtesting sessions on our Discord over TTS in the near future, and we'd love to have you along for the ride.