The Plain People of Gaming: Return to Mandible

The Accretion Disk supplement for Ashen Stars (available from Pelgrane’s shiny new webstore) contains detailed writeups for six common Laser ship designs – the Runner, Hammer, Rampart, Speeder, Porcupine and Hauler. It’s also got deck plans for, er, seven ship designs. Some meson shrapnel interference unaccountably scrambled communications, so the Mandible got a set of deck plans but not a writeup.

With most humble apologies to the noble kch-thk civilisation, this not-food seeks to repair this terrible discrepancy.

Mandible hull view

(Click on the deck plans for larger images)


No-one’s closer than a Mandible crew. Maybe it’s the close quarters and lack of privacy on board the kch-thk-designed ships. Maybe it’s the complexity of the ship’s advanced weapons systems and countermeasures that demands teamwork and trust. Maybe it’s the hive pheromones leaching out of the extruded bio-metallic hull struts. As the saying goes, when you sign up on a Mandible, you become part of the ship.

Mandible lower deck

Lower Deck

1. Shuttle Bay

Some Laser crews move their shuttle to the docking pad on the upper deck, and return this room to its original purpose as a ‘boarding ovipositor’. This specialised bolt-on costs 8 bigcreds, and has an upkeep of 1. Activate it at the start of a combat to reduce the threshold for Cripple for Boarding to a mere 9. The Mandible’s two massive mandible-claws lock onto the enemy ship, and the ovipositor punches through their hull, allowing the kch-thk marines to swarm on board.

There are two big downsides to this. First, it leaves the Mandible open to counter-attacks while moving to grab on, reducing all the ship’s Fire and Trickbag specs by 2 each (both Dishing It and Taking It). Second, a crew equipped with an ovipostor might as well go all the way and paint their hull black with skull-and-crossbone flags and rename the ship “Obvious Pirate” – reduce Reputation by 2.

2. Port Cargo Hold

Both cargo holds have forward-facing cargo doors, and the mandibles on the deck above can be used to grab space debris and drop it into the corresponding cargo hold.

Battle Station: Check for Salvage! If you’re at this station when your ship completes Rake, Slash or Destroy, you may make a Systems Design test (Difficulty 6). Succeed, and you grab some salvage from the enemy ship that might be worth something. Roll a d6; on a 1-5, if someone in your crew spends that many Systems Repair, the salvage is worth that many bigcreds. On a 6, you’ve salvaged something interesting, like a damaged-but-repairable bolt-on, an escape pod, some of the enemy’s cargo, or even one of the enemy crew, blown out in an explosive decompression.

3. Starboard Cargo Hold. You can Check for Salvage from this station too, if you want to maximise your chances of finding loot.

4. Hazardous Storage. Commonly referred to as the larder.

5. Secure Storage. This room comes equipped with extensive life-support equipment for sustaining a kch-thk grk’k’a chamber.

6. Access to Main Deck. The spiral staircase is a concession to stodgy quad-limbed not-food – on an all-kch-thk ship, there’s a sort of climbing frame/sphincter structure called a clk-ll instead that’s more comfortable to scuttle up.

7. Translight Drive. Every kch-thk translight drive includes a small shrine to Krdzt-Ktchh (see Ashen Stars, p. 157), the martyred inventor of faster-than-light travel. These shrines are included as a matter of tradition, but some engineers swear that they bring luck to the ships that carry them. When all is lost, spending a point of Kch-Thk History to recite the Convulsive Chant might inspire a merciful GM to let you refresh a few points of Systems Repair or Piloting.

8. Power Core

9. Computer Core. Battle Station: Optimise Output! The Mandible’s computer core is built right on top of its power core to enable this risky tactic. It’s possible to have the computer micro-manage power allocation, quickly shunting systems on and off-line to wring a little extra venom out of the reactors. This counts as hyperclocking (Ashen Stars, p. 92), but gives 3-6 points instead of 4. (Roll a die, and count any result of 1-2 as 3). Associated Spec: Fire (taking it)

Mandible main deck

Main Deck

1. Crew Quarters. Perhaps the most infamous aspect of the Mandible design is the lack of private rooms for the crew. It’s possible to hang plastic sheets or other dividers to break up the space, but there’s no elegant solution short of rebuilding the main deck. (Costs 10 bigcreds and takes six weeks). The lack of privacy may wear on the nerves of more sensitive crew members – it’s a great reason to call for Emotion Suppression tests from Balla, for example.

Mandible ships cannot obtain Side Deals (Ashen Stars, p. 173) involving carrying passengers.

2. Lounge. In an emergency, the floor of the lounge automatically pops open, allowing quick access to the shuttle bay below. Any occupied sleeping pods are then transferred into the shuttle.

Note that in the original schematics for the Manidible design, the ‘sleeping pods’ were originally designated for food storage. This automated system was not created to preserve the lives of the kch-thk crew – it’s there to ensure that they have sufficient food after the ship is destroyed and they reincarnate on board the shuttle from its grk’k’a tank.

3. Sleeping Pods. New crew members may hesitate at the idea of sleeping inside what’s effectively a cryo-stasis pod, but it’s the only private space on the whole ship.

4. Sick Bay. Another concession to the limitations of non-sequential lifeforms. A sick or injured kch-thk is more like to attempt Consciousness Transfer to another body rather than waste time and effort on healing a sub-standard shell. Mandible sickbays are often under-stocked and poorly equipped.

5. Facilities. All your sanitary, food preparation, mating and washing needs in one convenient location! What, does your species not usually combine those activities?

6. Access to Bridge.

7. Sensor Station. Battle Station: Countermeasures Targeting Solution! Spend a point of Energy Signatures to give your Stratco a 3-point pool of Naval Tactics. Associated Spec: Fire (either) or Trickbag (either)

8. Sensor Array Access. The deck plans don’t convey how cramped, narrow and confusing this access crawl-space is. Slither down here in a fight, and you’ve got a bonus 4-point Systems Repair pool that can only be spent on Override or Trickbag repairs. The downside is that it costs you 2 points of Athletics to get in here.

9. Weapons Station. Battle Station: Main Battery Targeting Solution! Spend a point of Energy Signatures to give your Gunner a 3-point pool of Battle Console. Associated Spec: Fire (either) or Trickbag (either)

10. Weapons Array Access: Like the Sensor Array access – 2 Athletics buys you 4 Systems Repair for Fire or Trickbag repairs only.

11. Sublight Engines. The Mandible’s drives are notoriously ‘showy’ – they throw off plenty of visible radiation moments before activation. It’s trivial for an enemy ship to track these emissions and anticipate the Mandible’s movements, hence the ship’s terrible Maneuver (Dishing It) rating. Clever Mandible crews prefer to engage enemies in environments where the ship’s giant glowing abdomen doesn’t telegraph their intentions quite so obviously, such as thick dust clouds or radiation storms.

12. Drives

13. Engineering Control. Battle Station – Suppress Engine Flares! A successful Systems Design test (Difficulty 6) improves the ship’s Maneuver (Dishing It) rating by 2 for one showdown. Fail, and the ship’s Maneuver (Dishing It) rating drops by 1 for the rest of the combat. Associated Spec: Maneuver (either).

14. Auxiliary Monitoring Station. Battle Station – Double-Check Those Flares! If another crew member attempts to Suppress Engine Flares while this station is occupied, that crew member may roll two dice instead of one and take the higher roll.

15. Access to Upper Deck

Mandible upper deck

Upper Deck

1. Bridge. The Mandible’s bridge is something of a tempting target. The canopy is composed of a semi-transparent resin that’s almost as tough as the rest of the hull, but it’s still a weak spot. If an enemy ship successfully Rakes or Slashes the Mandible, all crew members on the bridge take an extra die of damage.

2. Tactical Station.

3. Access to Main Deck

4. Pilot Station. Battle Station – The Krzd Feint: It’s possible to mislead an enemy who’s tracking your engine emissions by shunting plasma out the lateral maneuvering thrusters at the last instant. Pulling off this trick requires a Systems Design test (Difficulty 6). Succeed, and you get to count your negative Maneuver (Dishing It) rating as positive for one showdown. Fail, and you blow out the lateral thrusters and end up even more sluggish, reducing both your Maneuver ratings by 1. You can only attempt the Krzd Feint once per battle.

5. Comm Station

6. Gunnery Station. Battle Station: Devouring Fire. By carefully calibrating the ship’s weapons fire, a skilled gunner can unleash a fusillade that cripples an enemy ship as part of a successful Trickbag attack. If the Stratco wins a Trickbag showdown, spend 4 Battle Console to add the ship’s Fire (Dishing It) rating to the skirmish point haul.

7. Engineering Station

8. Access to Engineering

9. Airlock

10. Docking Pad. The surface of this docking pad secretes an adhesive gel instead of using artificial gravity or magnetic grapples to keep docked ships in place. One neat side-effect of this technology is that it’s possible to ‘stick’ a Mandible to, say, the side of a rocky cliff. It can park anywhere. It’s also possible to glom onto the belly of a larger vessel, hitching a ride without being obviously detectable…


Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

2 Responses to “The Plain People of Gaming: Return to Mandible”

  1. geelpete says:

    Sweet! My players’ Mandible, “Earwig” (or “The Earwig”), now orbits Ares-3.

  2. John says:

    What is the scale on the deckplans here and in the books? How many feet or meters per gridsquare?

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