Shades of Motion

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by C. J. Williams

Imagine invading a system with your massive ships, then they launch their fighters for multiple maneuvers, including bombing enemy ships and even the planet’s surface. The fighters move from hangar to fast-moving space combat to entering atmosphere, carrying on atmospheric dog fights, then strafing anti-aircraft guns, and then conducting drops of soldiers and robots who now do battle on the ground, all the while transferring the scale of proportion, movement, and turn time.

Here you will learn a system for carrying on great adventures that move from one location to another and from one movement speed to another without adversely affecting combat.

This system bridges movement between Alpha Dawn vehicle combat and Knight Hawks Ship combat, and lets the Aerospace Fighters move between them with ease. This doesn't change either system. It just provides them with more shade and makes them flow together seamlessly.

One thing not covered in the STAR FRONTIERS board game mechanics for vehicle and space flight is the third dimension. Previously, all battles have been performed in 2 dimensions without any consideration of the third dimension. This article rectifies this.


Sliding Scale Movement

Knight Hawks was designed for large space-fairing vessels that are up to 200 times larger than the fighter, and their cruising speed can be expected to be up to 200 times faster.

The size also affects how well these units can maneuver. A fighter could easily slow down and turn and battle within a 10,000 km hex, or even just 100 km. How do you determine exactly where it’s going or that it’s even moving or not if the piece stays in the same hex? A larger ship, however, isn’t likely capable of the same abilities within a 10,000 km hex.

In this system, 10,000 km is the scale for a hex and is used for 10 minute time scale for space units (like Knight Hawks). 2 m is the scale for a hex (previously a square) in 6 second time scale for characters on foot (like in Alpha Dawn). These are the two extremes. One is very, very fast, while the other is very, very slow movement. These cover battle in speeds from 2 kilometers an hour to 600,000 km per hour. When you're traveling at 2-6 kph (walk-run), and reaction speeds are quicker, 6 seconds is more than enough time to take action and conduct battle. At 600,000 km per hour, however, conducting a battle in 6 seconds is nigh on impossible. So 10 minutes ends up being the best period for ships to maneuver and to aim weapons.

If ships are traveling 6,000 km per hour, however, movement is impossible to demonstrate on 10,000 km hexes and far too fast for 2 m hexes, and 10 minutes is really more time than necessary, as ships moving at this speed can maneuver pretty well and take aim in under two minutes, so 2 minutes ends up being the optimal turn time and 20 km hexes are ideal for movement.

60,000-600,000 kph on 10,000 km hexes with 10 min rounds is the highest end of the scale, which is the standard Knight Hawks movement range. Anything higher and battle is effectively impossible to continue (In fact, battle at this speed is generally unrealistic in itself. Changing scale is the cure. Though this system still allows players to battle at this scale if they so choose), and anything slower cannot be accurately demonstrated on that scale.

Use the Movement Sliding Scale table below to change scale at different times in your game.

Note: To adjust your refereeing style and space battle philosophy, consider the average speed of units involved in the battle per what you feel to be realistic, then handle them on the relative hex size and turn time related in the scale chart. If you think over 60,000 kph is too fast for effective battle, then move it down to 6,000 kph per hex traveled.

SV Turn Hex Size kph/hex
1 6 sec 2m 1.2
2 6 sec/30 sec 10m/50m 6
3 1 min 1km 60
4 2 min 20km 600
5 5 min 500km 6,000
6 10 min 10,000km 60,000

Example: 6 hexes per turn at SV 4 equals 3,600 kph, and 2 minute turns are best to resolve combat.

Changing Scale on the Fly

This system is meant for changing scale on the fly (no pun intended). If you have fighters flying around the ships, or if a battle moves from space to the upper atmosphere of a planet, the units involved will slow down dramatically and continue to slow down until they reach atmospheric velocity (recommended at under 6,000 kph; SV 4). As a result, the scale of both distance and time will need to change. Scale must change depending on distance traveled and reaction times. This sliding scale allows action to continue on a gradual reduction or increase based on the circumstances.

Of course, when you change scale on the fly, graphic maps become irrelevant, so the key is just to stick to one hex map without graphic (unless you’re using a board game program on computer with hex scaling that allows you to change hex size in relation to the background graphic).

It is recommended to change scale when action slows to under 1 hex movement or increase to more than 10 hex movement on the current scale and especially when you want to determine what is going on within a single hex.

While movement appears to be dead on the current map, it may still happen on a lower SV. When a ship slows down or speeds up, its acceleration and deceleration must adjust as its mass becomes increasingly harder or easier to control relative to its thrust, and the resultant gees also affect the strain you can put on the ship, its passengers, and its systems. As a result, ADF and MR do not change significantly when changing scale. The exact gradient of momentum change can’t be minutely measured without a huge number of calculations, so it is approximated through the change in SV.

When movement slows to 0 hexes on the current SV, but movement is still considered to be occurring, you may change to a lower SV measurement. If a ship is in movement, apply the remainder of its ADF on the new SV measurement. On that measurement, you are now considered to be moving at 9 hexes (10 - 1 to represent a speed slower than 1 hex on the higher SV; 10 hexes on the current SV equals 1 hex on the higher SV).

Example: Your ship has an ADF of 4. You are traveling at 3 hexes per turn (180,000 kph), and choose to slow down by 3 hexes on the current SV, but want to still move. You are now traveling at 9 hexes of movement on SV 5 (54,000 kph). You have 2 ADF left to spend, and you want to slow down a little more, so you slow to 7 hex movement on SV 5 (42,000kph).


In Star Frontiersman Issue 5 I introduced the maneuver modifier (MM) and acceleration/ deceleration modifier (ADM), but have decided to drop these in favor of simplicity and because of no clear improvement of accuracy. Considering the near lateral move, the modifiers would only complicate the game. The velocity modifier numbers have also been dropped in favor of a new system explained under the subheading: Combat Modifiers.

Scale Combat Modifiers

When ships conduct combat, conditions of speed and size affect the ship’s ability to make an attack, thus affecting the combat modifier. Clearly, it’s going to be hard for a large ship to attack a fighter. Knight Hawks completely overlooks this.

Forward firing is nearly impossible for KH Size 20 leviathans against small fighters. Thankfully, they usually have turrets and guided weapons. Likewise, a fighter has almost absolute certainty to hit the leviathan. So clearly, forward firing in a fighter has almost no need of an attack roll if you’re just trying to attack the ship as a whole. It’s quite certainly a given. But the shades in-between need clarifying.

Size modifier - If the ship that is being attacked is larger, then add the difference between V Sizes to the modifier (To determine KH ships V Sizes, add 10 to the Hull Size). If it is smaller, then subtract the difference. If the attacking ship is larger and using FF weapons, multiply the difference times 10.

Velocity Modifier. If the ship being attacked is traveling on a different direction or one ship is standing still in relation to the other, multiply the number of full hexes the faster ship ends up on its SV away from the slower ship’s direction that turn times 10. Subtract the total from your combat modifier.

Example: A V Size 15 ship (Hull Size 5) traveling on SV 4 makes an attack using turrets on a fighter of V Size 7 that starts out 3 hexes away on SV 5 traveling 2 points (60º) in a different direction at 3 hexes per turn, which puts them 1 hex further away from each other at the end of the turn. So the attacking ship gets a -8 for the size difference, plus -10 for the SV direction difference for a total of -18.

Note: If you consider ship beam cannons to vaporize a broad spread all at once (such as the size of a planet), then ignore these combat modifiers or even all combat modifiers altogether.

Third Dimension of Flight

Triangulation is the best means of tracking an object through a three-dimensional space. Use the following rules to literally give your game a new dimension.


When using a hex grid for a planet’s surface, the third dimension of atmospheric flight can be simulated by keeping track of a fighter’s distance from a stationary point. For now, consider that to be the ground of a planet, or the hull of a large nearby ship (likely the ship from which you launch. Track these as imaginary hexes, as they affect and are affected by your speed and direction in relation to the larger body.

The object you choose as “the ground” will always be on the same plain. Do not think of this as a focal point, but more as a flat surface. For ships as the ground, you can move below the field of the ship, but that ship should always represent a flat plain in relation to the surrounding stars.

You are now freed from the confines of a 2-dimensional map. While your fighter appears to be stationary on one hex, it could be moving at full speed in a perpendicular direction to the map.

Note: Height-tracking is the recommended form of tracking for miniatures, though the following double-mapping can still apply if you have a second miniature to represent your ship, though this requires much more table room.


Of course, it’s easier to track the third dimension when distances are already measured for you. This can be done by tracking movement on a second hex map. This form of triangulation can help facilitate quick movement. However, you don’t need to use a large second map, unless you want to. Instead, you can use the vertical track on the previous page. Use the hex at Point Zero to determine the plane above and below which the action takes place. You do not need to use a ship to identify Point Zero.

In the atmosphere of a planet, consider the bottom hex to be connecting to ground level. If the vessels are too far above ground level, then consider the middle hex to be Point Zero as per normal.

Tracking Hexes in Three Dimensions=

If you move in any direction other than vertical on the vertical track, just move the piece as if on a full map, cycling back and forth between left and right hexes as you move (as demonstrated by the arrows inside the diagram), maintaining the chit’s facing. If you need to, demonstrate the movement on the full map and then use the result to determine where it would end up on the vertical track.

Spend ADF/MR with applicable modifiers the same as for two-dimensional movement, except divide it between each movement on both maps (you can move 2 hexes on one map and 1 hex on the other map, representing that you moved 3 hexes), spending all perpendicular movement on the horizontal map and all vertical movement on the vertical track. On the vertical track or map, only count vertical movement and all facing changes.

Now that you’re moving in three dimensions, tracking hexes is slightly more complicated, but once you get a hang of it, it will become as normal as moving in two dimensions.

Ground Coordinates

Determining your ship’s position in relation to your destination point on a rotating planet as you go from space to atmosphere is pretty much impossible in a tabletop board game, so just assume that your ship and any vessels in pursuit have traveled until reaching your destination point.

If you are actually role-playing, your Referee chooses where you enter the atmosphere from in relation to your destination.

A New Adventure

You are now prepared for a greater board game and roleplaying experience. Nothing will stop you from carrying on games from one environment to another without stop. Seize the opportunity to revitalize your Star Frontiers campaigns.

Incorporating these things into your campaign is both easy and desirable. With it, you can bring new levels of excitement to your campaign.

These rules are easily adaptable to other game systems, so feel free to use them in any space battle game you play.

Good gaming to you.