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Setting: Starships

When space is involved, there will always be starships – that is a fact of space fantasy. In Arcanauts, starships are a lot like people – simple boats won’t cut it in this kind of environment.


Starships come in all shapes and sizes from tiny Pixie Mayflies to massive Draconic Leviathans and anywhere in between. They universally include life support systems, power cores and communications facilities. Often they also include medical facilities, resting and dining areas, projectile weaponry and storage space. More rarely, ships can hold docking bays for other ships, dungeons (both in the historical and traditional sense), hidden compartments,  or almost anything else a being decides to put into space.

At the centre of a starship is its power core – a central battery that determines its capabilities and acts as its heart, brain and soul all rolled into one. These cores come in a few different flavors with their own strengths and weaknesses, and by and large determine the ship’s capabilities. These cores power a variety of simple rituals programmed into them by their creators, and allowing them basic functionality. All decently sized power cores are capable of FTL travel and synthesizing enough food and breathable air for the crew for example, but specialized cores maybe able to render the ship invisible or teleport it short distances. Due to their importance, these cores are often kept in the most heavily armored areas of the ship, and make extremely valuable targets for space pirates.

Anyways, here are the different types of engine you’re most likely to encounter:

Arcane Battery

An Arcane Battery is a large, crystalline structure that stores massive amounts of magical energy. It tends to be favoured for its versatility – an Arcane Battery can run most ships without a lot of trouble, and is the most common kind of Power Core you’ll encounter. Arcane Batteries draw power from cosmic leylines – massive intangible veins of pure magic that arc their way through the stars. The Leylines are often referred to as the “Grand Roads” and are by and large the best way to navigate when one wants to avoid Wyrmweb. This means that your ship will have to rest every so often in proximity to a Leyline in order to refuel, but beware – you aren’t the only ones travelling on the Grand Roads.

Thaumaturgical Capacitor

A Thaumaturgical Capacitor is a dense metal sculpture folded in on itself and inscribed with the prayers of those who use it. It acts as a powerful divine focus, allowing religious travellers to plot a course either at the mercy of the Gods, or through amplified divination spells. Thatumaturgical Capacitors are famed for their powerful shielding effects, though the often lack compatibility with most conventional weapons systems. They draw power from the prayers of their inhabitants, often doubling as an on-board shrine to whoever the crew’s chosen deity is. But beware  falling out of favour with the god who powers your ship can make for an “interesting” Odyssey.

Psionic Nexus

A Psionic Nexus is an artificial consciousness bound to the ship, controlling it as though it were its own body. It communicates intelligently to the crew, acting on its interpretation of their orders, provided they stay on good terms with it. Psionic Nexi tend to result in highly agile ships, but require experience and to be treated as another member of the crew if its pilot wants to get the most out of it. It absorbs power from the conscious minds of those around it while they rest, often manifesting this process as a collective dream that crew members take part in. In cases where this proves insufficient – say, after periods of intense travel or activity, these cores will often require more conventional refueling processes. Psionic Nexi tend to specialize in different areas depending on their personality, but most respond well to enhanced mobility software and enjoy the sensation of flight.

Primal Heart

A Primal Heart is a living, breathing organism that draws on the living power of nature to operate a ship. It absorbs power from the primal cosmic forces of the universe, siphoning energy from the stars around it. Primal Hearts lack any true sentience, but instead possess an empathic bond to the crew, feeling the raw emotions of everyone aboard. At the same time, the crew feel its emotions, remaining calm as long as it does, and becoming agitated if it feels uncomfortable. Nonetheless travelers often report that ships with primal hearts make for exceedingly relaxing voyages.  Primal Hearts tend to be highly compatible with conventional weaponry and their affinity for cosmic forces make them particularly good sensor platforms.

Other Cores and Regional Variants

While theoretically there are other ways to convert magical power into physical effects, and scientific efforts have made major strides in the harnessing of Dark Energy, such custom devices are either extremely rare or unreliable to the point they cannot or are not sold on an open market. Most power cores are variations on those themes, though different regions produce different ship designs and core specifications. Dwarven cores for example tend to be exceedingly reliable, while draconborn cores often sacrifice stability for power. Shardmind Nexi tend to be logical and emotionally consistant, whereas Eladrin Primal Hearts are often as capricious as their makers.

Mechanically this means Starships use the same six abilities as you do, modified by the kind of engine and the design of the ship. STR determines engine power, CON determines hull strength, DEX determines agility, INT determines hardware and software versatility, WIS determines sensor and remote communication capabilities, while CHA affects how the ship looks and in some cases acts.


As stated earlier, power cores are responsible for powering pre-programmed spells and rituals that perform tasks ranging from the simple operation of the ship to shields, sensors and weaponry. The functions an individual core is capable of are determined by built in subroutines (or as people call them, skills) as well as unique hardware capabilities (feats) and of course, the magical effects it has learned (spells/rituals). The cores are mostly self sustaining, but tend to require semi-regular maintenance to ensure their capabilities remain in peak condition.  Starships can generally do anything an adventurer is capable of, provided the right software packages and custom hardware, though obviously through different mechanisms.

For example – recording software (History) can be used to memorize star charts, area data and take recordings. Telepathic warfare suites (Bluff)  can then be used to feed false data to enemy sensors, or they can simply be avoided via cloaking systems (Stealth).  Often the only limits are that of the artificers and mages designing them, as they tend to have significant amounts of magical power to work with, and in some cases, sentient operating systems to make sure their projects are working properly.

In the Game

Ship to ship combat will be a thing, and characters will gain experience from engaging in it. Ships generally don’t get experience, unless they’re Psionic Nexi or Primal Hearts, and upgrades, including level ups usually have to be purchased from shipyards. Instead of armour, they have different hull plating, and they almost exclusively use spells or adapted ranged weapons in combat. Default loadouts will resemble actual classes so feel free to discuss amongst yourselves the kind of ship you’d like to use. No guarantees, but I am curious.

Categories: Setting
  1. aldowyn
    September 24, 2012 at 12:45 am

    Sweet stuff here… I particularly enjoyed how you made each of the different power sources distinctly unique, both mechanically and in their characteristics. You mentioned that “default loadouts will resemble classes”… am I right in guessing that the power source (battery, capacitor, nexus, heart) are basically like ship “races”, with ability bonuses like con for capacitors and dex for nexi, with those loadouts as classes?

    Also, I didn’t see anything about size. I assume there’s everything from say 1-man fighters to colony ships? I’d imagine you’re planning for us to somehow get a Falcon-esque ship the whole party could be on at once. I do wish to note that I would love a 1-man nexi fighter at some point, so maybe a ship that’s big enough for that to dock on…

    Any idea on when we’ll be starting meetings, or meeting up to discuss starting meetings? Anxious to get the ball rolling 😀

    • September 24, 2012 at 1:06 am

      You suppose correctly. The designs of the ship will determine ability scores, then they’ll be modified by the kind of core used the way races give bonuses.

      In terms of size, I said they range from Pixie Mayflies (pretty damn small) to Draconic Leviathans (really freaking big). Size generally positively correlates with “level”, as does the quality of the ship, much like with monsters.

      Anyways, meetings should be at whatever the session time is intended to be, which looks like it’ll be weekends. I still lack a lot of information on when people are available, but I can work on figuring it out soonish. Ideally they’d start within the week.

      • aldowyn
        September 24, 2012 at 1:15 am

        I forgot about the mayflies and leviathans by the time I got to the bottom of the post >.>

        And ok, cool.

  2. September 24, 2012 at 4:36 am

    This is very good stuff, sir. Very good stuff.

    Only tangentially related: do you have everything you need from me regarding available times?

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