Generally speaking most Ship to Ship combats that happen in games tend to be 1 on 1 or side vs side. Ultimately we're talking actions here that are actually the culmination of dozens of characters (npcs and pcs) working together. As such initiative should be kept fair. Determine who goes first by who fires first which is usually determined by situation. Give one ship its full action, then the other ship its full action, and go back and forth.
If handling multiple ships or a major battle, use your systems initiative system. Specifically have each ship's Commander roll and use that to determine which ship goes when.
What Can I Do On A Turn?
This is the big question. Each ship should get Two actions for each turn. What exactly those actions are are determined by the player in the Command position.
Every round the command position can call for any two of the following three actions: Status Report, Consult The Command Staff, Assign Action.
A Status Report involves every station giving a rundown of their situation. This is where Engineering can inform that the engines are going critical, or tactical can say that phasers are down. It is also good for giving a general situation appraisal and for the GM to quickly answer any questions about the general situation. In general I'd restrict the GM to answering no more than 5 questions beyond giving the general status of the ship.
Consult the Command Staff
This is essentially opening the table to kibitz and conversation. When this action is taken the GM should give the players 1-2 minutes to decide what they're going to do. If they go over time inform them that it is costing them another action. If this was the second action taken, or they still go over time, inform them that it is costing them yet another action to continue and resolve the other ships turn. Even still, the point here is for people to be able to present suggestions to problems.
This is where the Command gives the action to another player to do something related to their area. For example, Weapons could fire the forward batteries, or maybe take the time to prepare a special missile to be launched in a later round. Sensors could find a hidden enemy among an asteroid field, or get a lock on a specific subsystem to aid with a future attack roll. The point is, control for one "action" goes to another player.
And that's it. The command calls the actions, the actions are done/resolved, and the next round/turn goes into play.
What If My Area Isn't Given A Task
Then you don't do anything.
That Seems Kind Of Boring
It is. Which is why there are three things to help with keeping everyone involved. Those three rules are this:
- No action/section can be called more than once in one turn or more than twice in three turns.
- Every turn that your section does nothing gives you a cumulative small bonus to your next action to make it better.
- A player who has had action assigned to him can call on one other player to assist with that action in some way, provided the GM says it makes sense.
No Action Can Be Called...
The idea behind this is two fold. One, it means that you can't just keep calling to shoot your opponent. While that is a big part of ship combat there is more going on. Two, it represents the fact that everything takes time. Weapon batteries need to recharge, crew needs to move around, calculations need to be reset, sensors need to be re-calibrated. It also gives a window to do proper setup, getting everything into place for that one culminating action that is oh so sweet to pull off.
Your character is doing stuff even if you don't have the focus. Tactical officers don't just ignore what is going on when they aren't being called on for firing solutions. Because of this, when the action does get to you, your character is prepared. This small bonus should be system dependent. In Fate it could be a free aspect invoke (though that could be way too powerful.) In Roll and Keep it could be a Free Raise or just a +2. In a D20 system a +1 should work just fine.
Sometimes an action is done best by actually being two actions. Provided the players can swing the explanation the GM can allow for multiple players to help towards the same action. For example, Tactical and Security could team up to make sure the engines on the enemy ship are taken down through a combination of Ship to Ship laser fire and an away team. Engineering and Sensors could work together to boost a signal and break through a jamming frequency.
Combined actions don't come without a cost however. For one thing, they count against how many times an area can be called upon in a turn. For another they reset any bonuses. Still, it does allow for some cool bits of team work to come into play.
So, what do you think?
A lot of this is still intentionally vague. The system itself needs to be light and flexible, and it also needs to be able to bolt onto any other system. As such I've left checks and the exact specifics of what a section can do up to you. Use your systems dice to settle damage and success and failure. Use this to keep the action going smoothly and focused on the narrative of the battle.