[Editors’ Note: 3:16 is a fantastic, highly playable and easy-to-learn game of combat amongst the stars. It works on many levels, from the simple visceral thrill of combat, via a satirical take on gung-ho militarism, to a sombre examination of dehumanization. Because of this, it works for almost every player. Now you can look up from from the gravity well, to the stars, where officers soar in in heavily armed fighters, the Few slaughtering the Many. It beats being a grunt for a change. Why not try it?]
Beneath A Blackened Field Alight With Stars
On Planet Warhol it was night and Daxor gazed at the sky above. It was clear, save for a black streak of acrid cloud trailing high into the atmosphere like a drunken arm, flailing. The inky blot ran from the far eastern horizon, which was orange and glowing, bleeding high and to the north. Daxor could see Corporal Acron’s grin reflecting the far tangerine fire that his Flame-Gun had helped start. Acron should enjoy the sight, he was lucky to still be alive. The whole squad had fought hard for days burning the wretched natives from their homes, and yet still they resisted on the ground, in the air and further above. Those of the squad that endured were due this reward: some rest and a chance to look up and marvel at the stars. The stars were glowing white, blue and red, like sprays of diamonds, sapphires and rubies on a field of black velvet. It was enthralling. One of the lights out there, surely, was Terra.
Amidst the stars, to the west, there were streaking runs of light, flickering beams and bursts of flame, all higher than the loftiest blot of cloud. Acron spoke, his voice low and rasping, “Daxor, you’re a man of the world, what’s that, then? I’ve never seen such a thing. It’s like space itself is alive.” Daxor had seen the lights before and once had asked the same question of a veteran many years before. “They”, said Daxor giving weight to his pronouncement with a pause, “are The Few.”
Daxor could feel the squad cock their ears towards him, while turning their heads to the battle raging far in the Cosmos above. “Up there,” he continued “are the brave pilots of the Terran Navy. If it weren’t for them I dare say we’d be dead already. We’d be shelled and burnt, bombed and shot to pieces.” He stopped speaking and they all watched the spectacle above play out in magnificent silence. Hours later the flickering lights stopped and soon afterwards dawn came. The squad was still alive and it could only mean that the battle above had been won.
This is the story of those Few. Players will take on the roles of pilots in the Terran Navy on duty with the 16th Brigade of the 3rd Army of the Expeditionary Force. The rules and information here will allow you to use 3:16 to enjoy space combat using its tried and tested system.
Follow the rules in 3:16 for creating a character’s Name, Reputation, Abilities and Flashbacks. Note that Fighting Ability encapsulates fighting of all kinds including using spacecraft, missiles and so on, while Non-Fighting Ability is everything else including using tactics, evading, hiding and employing countermeasures, etc.
In The Few all characters will start at Rank 2, a Pilot Officer (equivalent to a Sergeant) on the cusp of promotion to the rank of Flying Officer (the equivalent of a Lieutenant).
There are some changes from the basic rules noted here to tailor the game for playing these pilots. Notably the highest rank can only call on an E-Vac (called “Abort!” here) if they reach the rank of Squadron Leader (detailed below). The lowest ranks still use Force Weakness as detailed in 3:16. Initially everyone has access to this item, as the PCs are all of the same rank.
Orders for the various ranks can easily follow those of the equivalent ranks in the 3:16, so Pilot Officers will initially have Orders 1 through to 4 to begin the game.
I have added a new twist on moving during encounters, called “Fuel“, with the limits detailed below. Note specifically that the aliens are not affected by how much Fuel a spaceship has and can change your range relative to them as many times as they wish in an encounter, as long as they beat your roll, of course.
[Rank 2] Pilot Officer (PO)
The lowest grade of pilot is given the most reliable, but unspectacular craft, available: The Skink. It is a ship that is easy to handle but limited in capability, although it can be upgraded on promotion.
Fuel: You have enough fuel to allow you to change range twice in an encounter (you can track this with Poker Chips).
Weapons: Your Skink is armed with an Electric Cannon and Proximity Mines. You now choose one of the following for your primary weapon: Rockets, Lasers or Rail-gun. These weapons are detailed below.
You learn to Eject, which can be used as a last resort to escape the enemy. It is a test of NFA and if successful allows you to move out of an encounter on your turn (from any range). If you fail then you stay in the encounter at your range and out of your ship. You may still attempt to Eject from the encounter in the following round but you are no longer able to attack the enemy in any way.
Playing The Game
Essentially play is the same as for regular 3:16, just remember that the encounters are between hordes of aliens (blips on the scanners) and pilots in ships. During encounters the PCs are treated as one with their ships: the “Armour” tick box represents the shields of their craft rather than the plates of a MandelBrite suit. Similarly the Health Boxes reflect the status of their ship: first it is damaged (A Mess) and then Crippled. Further Kills upon it will lead to the destruction of the ship and the death of the pilot.
Combat Drugs allow a re-roll on FA as in the regular game of 3:16 too, and this maps well to the use of amphetamines for combat aviators.
Ships are repaired by one level between encounters, even for ejecting pilots (i.e. they are given replacement craft that may already be a Mess).
For playing through encounters I use model spaceships and the excellent map by Ralf Schemmann [Ed: created with ProFantasy’s CC3] available here.
The pilots, when out of their ships, if you need to know such a thing, are armed and equipped as Sergeants in 3:16. You may enjoy scenes on board the carrier spacecraft and on planetary surfaces as much as ship-to-alien combat.
In Encounters note that ships are limited in the number of times they can change range at the will of the player, these restrictions are noted in the ship descriptions. I recommend using Poker Chips to keep track of the fuel available to the pilots. Also note that Higher Ranks have flying skills that allow them to do things not normally allowed by the rules. Again, these are detailed with the descriptions of the Higher Ranks. Note that the Alien Ability “Isolate” will prevent Eject from allowing a PC to flee an encounter.
At the Between Missions phase of play PCs can choose new weapons for their craft from the list given here if they are successful on a Development Roll. Additionally any Pilot may improve their ship’s Fuel level by 1 as an “automatic improvement” or with a successful Development Roll, should they wish to do so. In these cases they have learnt to better use the fuel cells of their craft or to make more efficient use of manoeuvres.
Kills and Fictional Events
The Kills listed for the ship weapons assume that you will be fighting alien craft (e.g. interceptors) or creatures (e.g. space whales) in the vacuum of a star system. The casualties are low, since primarily you will be engaging small numbers of enemies or ships with only a limited crew. However, in the fiction the GM may have you fighting enemies on the ground or on vast colony or capital ships. In these cases, when the fiction calls for it, the GM should declare this at the start of the encounter. For the duration of the encounter all kills rolled are multiplied by 10 (for strafing ground troops, say) or by 100 (in extreme cases when attacking a fleet of colony ships loaded with victims).
On promotion your POs will advance to higher rank, use the following ones to replace those given in 3:16.
[Rank 3] Flying Officer (FO)
The Gecko is an improvement on the basic Skink chassis, and is used by experienced pilots.
Fuel: You have enough fuel to allow you to change range three times in an encounter (you can track this with Poker Chips).
Weapons: Your ship is upgraded to Gecko class, which affords it a Cloaking Device, this functions exactly as a Drop Pod does in 3:16. This device is lost should you use a Weakness or Eject to leave the encounter, although it can be added back to your craft with the use of a Development Roll between missions.
Skill: You learn Formation Flying. This allows you to change range if another pilot with the Formation Flying skill does so. Note that you must have enough Fuel to perform this task. You change range at the same time as the other pilot (i.e. at the end of their turn).
[Rank 4] Flight Lieutenant (FL)
The Caiman upgrade is far more manoeuvrable than the Gecko and has a large bomb rack on the underside for carrying a TPK Bomb.
Fuel: You have enough fuel to allow you to change range four times in an encounter (you can track this with Poker Chips).
Weapons: Your ship is upgraded to Caiman class, which affords it a TPK Bomb, this functions as in the 3:16 rulebook. It is a localized nuclear bomb designed to irradiate and destroy vast numbers of the enemy. A replacement bomb can be added back to your craft with the use of a Development Roll between missions. You also gain an Electric Lance.
Skill: You learn Superior Tactics. This allows you to enter combat at one Range band nearer or further away if you wish to do so. You cannot use Superior Tactics to start an encounter beyond Far Range (as this is clearly cowardice!). It costs one Fuel Token to use this skill. For no Fuel cost you can elect to start at the same Range as the squadron, of course.
[Rank 5] Squadron Leader (SL)
The Alligator upgrade makes large changes to the spacecraft and it comes equipped with extra weapons on an improved body shape.
Fuel: You have enough fuel to allow you to change range five times in an encounter (you can track this with Poker Chips).
Weapons: Your ship is upgraded to Alligator class, which carries a Recombination Field as standard. This functions as the Kinetic Field Armour Transmitter in the 3:16 rulebook. Your Alligator is additionally armed with either an MHD Cannon or MHD Lance.
Skill: You learn the skill Abort! This allows you use the E-Vac from the main 3:16 rules.
[Rank 6] Wing Commander (WC)
Fuel: You have enough fuel and skill at using it to allow you to change range as many times as you wish in an encounter.
Weapons: Your ship is upgraded to Lizard class, which carries a Paradise Bomb as standard. This functions exactly as the one in the 3:16 rulebook.
Skill: You learn the skill Break and Run! This allows you use the E-Vac from the main rules but without anyone taking a Kill in the process of ending the encounter.
[Rank 7] Group Captain (GC)
Fuel: You have enough fuel and skill at using it to allow you to change range as many times as you wish in an encounter. Furthermore, as long as you are successful on your roll (either FA or NFA) you may change range by one step at the end of your turn.
Weapons: Your ship is upgraded to Tuatara class, which carries a Starkiller Missile as standard. This functions exactly as in the 3:16 rulebook.
Skill: You learn the skill Deflect! This allows you to direct a Kill on you to someone else at the same Range Band.
The immediate commander to the inner cadre of Group Captains is The Brigadier, whose details are given in the 3:16 rulebook. Across all the Brigades in the Expeditionary Force it is not uncommon for a Brigadier to have been promoted from The Few.
For the GM
The list of Alien Abilities, Special Abilities and Alien Creature Forms stand as in the 3:16 rulebook. However, we can replace the planets with “Regions”. Here are two lists for region names and features.
1. Region Name
2. Region Feature
- Accretion disc
- Asteroid belts
- Binary system
- Black hole
- Controlled space
- Deep space
- Exotic space—time
- Gamma-ray bursts
- Gas giant
- Inner planets
- Multiple moons
- Planet (dense atmosphere)
- Planet (thin atmosphere)
- Ring systems
- Solar flares
- Star-forming region
- Super-massive black hole
- Unstable star
Accretion disc: This binary system has one star eating its partner. A large, luminous disc of accreting matter dominates the star system, and allows for cunning enemies to hide and lay traps.
Asteroid belts: Perhaps the remnants of rocky planets hastily destroyed by the Force, or just naturally occurring areas of dense asteroid and comet activity, these belts make for dangerous games of hide and seek.
Binary system: A system with two stars can create strange orbits of planets and disorient even the most skilled pilot in the middle of a dogfight.
Black hole: An otherwise ordinary star system can be very dangerous when it contains a black hole. Space and light is bent wickedly around the singularity and it can be fatal to an inattentive pilot.
Controlled space: Re-routed to a hinterland that is supposedly controlled and safe is never good. It means that the dangers there require immediate and lethal action.
Deep space: Far out, between stars systems in the void the pilots are the only protection the fleet has from hostile attack. Enemies burst forth from the darkness and the Brigade’s safety is of paramount importance.
Else-world: Slipping free of the bonds of our conventional Universe, the fleet may happen upon parallel existences. They may be slips in time, or space, or both. Here things do not occur as they would in our “normal” world, and the Few must stand brave against the onslaught of unknown things.
Exotic space—time: Gravitational or relativistic effects can lead to strange abnormalities in the structure of the space–time in which the Brigade must operate. Reality is twisted and perceptions are altered by frighteningly beautiful occurrences of extreme science.
Gamma-ray bursts: A local star “bursts” periodically with ravening beams of deadly radiation. The locals here are used to such things, of course, and may use their knowledge to kill the invading Brigade. Operating near such a deadly star can test the nerve of even the coolest pilot.
Gas giant: The planets in this system are vast bloated spheroids, luminescent in colour and thickly shrouded in clouds of toxic gas and liquid. Hopping from giant to giant the Few have to cleanse the enemy one Jupiter at a time.
Inner planets: The focus of the Brigade’s assaults in this star system is its inner planets: they are hot, rocky and hostile. Gas plumes vent forth from surfaces as they are superheated before passing deeply into frozen shade. Other planets host an atmosphere where creatures, fresh for the slaughter, dwell.
Multiple moons: This region has planets that are festooned with many satellites, each with their own peculiar slant. Some moons are forested, while others are ice worlds, and yet more are even artificial constructs. All orbit the home of a merciless tyrant, a sworn enemy to Terra.
Planet (dense atmosphere): The focal point of this region is a planet, stoutly defended, and holding a thickly dense atmosphere. It is hard for the Brigade’s ships to pilot through the soup-like atmosphere and the conditions are challenging for even the best pilots.
Planet (thin atmosphere): This now thinly veiled planet is the third rock from a bulging red star, and here wicked creatures dwell in underground bunkers. They are the remnants of a once-proud race grown weak and flabby from generations of complacency. Space junk floats in orbit all around the star system making piloting hazardous, though the thin atmosphere of the planet itself affords favourable conditions for flight.
Pulsar: A rapidly rotating neutron star beams out a shrieking tone, warning and hostile. All that remains here are supposedly the remnants of a supernova and the millisecond-pulsing gravestone. In the clouds and perhaps in the star itself enemies lurk, waiting, watching.
Ring systems: The notable feature of this region is the vast number, variety and complexity of the ring systems that surround the planets and the star here. From the very finest lines of dust to massive lanes of km-wide asteroids give pause for thought to even the most foolhardy of pilots.
Solar flares: The star in this system arcs fiery tongues of plasma deep into space. The deadly superheated limbs of this star can destroy even a shielded capital ship with little effort. The flares make it hard to manoeuvre and the inhabitants of the system use their familiarity with the star’s behaviour to devastating tactical effect.
Star-forming region: This region of space holds few living stars. Instead it is the home to nascent stars coalescing to life. The thick clouds of helium and hydrogen here cause scanners to misbehave and give false readings. Clouds of iron and heavy elements seem to wash in tides and even here creatures dwell that must be slain.
Super-massive black hole: At the centre of a galaxy or dense cluster of stars lie super-massive black holes. Glowing white as they consume all around them these beasts can weigh 100 solar masses or more. The creatures that reside here, or indeed whether these black holes are somehow sentient, is what brings the Brigade into such a hostile environment. The spectacular death of tens of stars will be dwarfed by the carnage the Brigade wishes the Few to cause here.
Unstable star: An otherwise normal star system holds a dangerous secret, for this region is about to explode. The bloated red star strains as the prophecies of the creatures here tell of an End of Times, both for their race and their illuminating God. Death will come from the stars.
Missions that the pilots will be tasked with in these regions include (a) convoy escort duties, (b) seek-and-destroy missions, (c) bombing runs, (d) ground support, (e) E-Vac of ground troops, (f) attacks on enemy craft and bases, and (g) scouting.
The basic weapon of most vehicles is the nose-mounted electric cannon. It fires small bursts of cased rounds and is an effective weapon at only the closest of ranges.
Close 1|d10 (basic|best)
This is a short-range weapon that discharges a powerful beam from a front-mounted conducting lance.
Close d6|2d6 (basic|best)
Best at Near Range owing to the coherence length of the beam, these light-wave weapons can be devastating when used by a skilled pilot.
Close 1|d10 (basic|best)
The “Heavy Plasma” as it is often known harnesses the laws of magnetohydrodynamics to fire deadly shots of superheated gas for devastating effect at relatively short ranges.
Close d10|2d10 (basic|best)
The “Plasma Pike” uses magnetohydrodynamics to discharge death at the very closest of ranges.
Close 2d6|3d10 (basic|best)
These mines are released in clouds designed to inflict heavy losses on the enemy at Close Range. Trained pilots are adept at piloting through the fields, though mistakes often regrettably lead to blue-on-blue casualties.
Close d10|2d10 (basic|best)
*Proximity Mines cause a Kill to any PCs at Close Range with the aliens who fails their roll this round.
The rail-gun fires rounds at high velocity towards the enemy. Hits are often fatal in large numbers at the very furthest of ranges.
Close 1|d10 (basic|best)
These are the missiles and torpedoes most capable of crippling enemies at greatest distances. Some are launched in volleys while others are high-payload items deployed unerringly to bloody effect.
Close –|– (basic|best)
Gregor Hutton lives in Edinburgh and is the creator of Best Friends and 3:16. His next book is a fantasy version of 3:16 called Tribal Carnage.