I've been thinking about ships in Into The Oort a lot for the last week. I had a lot of fun a while ago writing down names for a d100 table of ship names (it will surprise no-one if they see that table that I like the Culture novels), and I now have a d50 table of "ship classes" too, in the sense that the Enterprise D is a Galaxy class ship, Luke Skywalker flies an X-Wing and so on.
Say you have a random encounter with a ship and roll some thing from a few tables quickly. It comes back with, say, 20 metres long, rocket-shape, stats are 10s across the board except for a thick HULL of 14. Two laser banks. Another quick roll, it's part of a notoriously inept pirate militia - but where did they get their hands on a decent ship like that? Mystery...
Anyway, you roll on the d50 ship class table and that tells you it's a Caliban class ship - and from this point on, if you meet another Caliban class ship you can expect it to have similar stats, shape, size and armaments. Caliban can become a kind of shorthand in your game.
(of course, they might not only be used by pirates: a border patrol for a polity seven hexes over could have a whole fleet that they have retrofitted with fast drives; comet miners might have one with a ridiculously oversized gun installed to deter thieves - the class just offers a broad baseline)
Ship names and classes are fun to think about. Mechanics and shipgen less so. Finding a way to make ships as nice as PCs from a game of Into The Odd, mechanically speaking, is interesting and tricky. If someone rolls stats for a character, they can then interpret them when it comes to describing their physical appearance - and that's OK, because they're going to be playing that role after all. They won't be playing a ship. My original design idea was to have three stats for ships, HULL, DRIVE, SCAN - which almost mirror STR, DEX, WILL from Odd - and to have regenerative shields, SP, replace hit points. So in the midst of a fight the shields then the HULL takes damage, but assuming the power is up and the ship can get away, the shields recover and then the HULL has to be repaired.
But what about crew size? What about ship size? What about cargo space? I'm happy to have black boxes for a lot of features - power, life support, gravity - but I think having something mechanically that determines crew, ship size and cargo space features in ship generation is useful (as well as some thoughts about how that could mechanically impact things in play; how well can someone fly the ship with only a skeleton crew?)
And while it is nice and neat to have stats for the ship, do we need someone who is acting as a pilot or captain? Probably. If the ship takes a hit does everyone onboard roll to avoid taking some kind of damage? Maybe.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. At the moment I'm looking for something simple to generate ships, both for players and for the GM who is creating encounters in play and prepping them before play. I've asked a fair few questions in this post. In the next post I'll try to pull some answers together.