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More thoughts on Space Combat

PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2016 4:58 pm
by Rob Lang
Had a great session of space combat this evening. I think the explanation of it needs a little polish. It does the job I wanted it to do: all players get to have a job and the tactical choices don't require complex vector maths.

I like that Operations failing makes it more difficult for the Pilot and the Pilot failing makes it more difficult for the Gunners. However, a simple -20% modifier to a skill roll is a bit flat - I think it could be more interesting to generate other problems from failing too. Or give the pilot more difficult tactical choices. Putting so much onus on the pilot makes it quite tough.

Also if the spacecraft is good, it doesn't take damage and the engineer doesn't have a great deal to do. There should be some kind of "MORE POWER!" options for the engineer.

A change during play
We made a small change that if the pilot fails the roll then the gunners can still shoot at the sub systems but take the -20% modifier. It was made more of problem that our pilot wasn't very skilled, so failed A LOT.

Little holes
A hole we spotted is that if you miss the sub-system you miss the hull too? We thought that weird, you might have missed the precise system but you should still be able to hit the barn door of a spacecraft. For the evening, we played it that if you missed the subsystem but still got under for the hull % then you hit it. That's quite difficult to explain in rules, so I need to think of a fair way of dealing with that.

They're all house rules at the moment, there are always more opportunities to test!

Re: More thoughts on Space Combat

PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 5:10 am
by Onix
I like the MORE POWER idea for the engineer. There should be two settings, the "I can prioritize that." where one system gets a power priority and gets a boost, and a "SHE CAN'T TAKE ANY MORE CAPTAIN!" where the engineer is pushing the systems beyond their safeguards and a failed roll will do damage. That would make a good engineer a real boon to a crew at the ship may be able to regularly outperform a better vessel.

What If you flipped the equation on the piloting induced modifiers. What if a good piloting roll improved the gunner's chance of hitting? (It might work better if they only got a +10% instead of a complete flip of +20%) That makes the pilot a valued member when they pass, and less of a source of grief when they fail.

As for the subsystem rule, how about this.

If a character's roll to hit is 20% lower than their base success, they may opt to target a subsystem on the target vessel.

I've come to the philosophy to reward a good roll rather than penalize a poor one. It amps up the excitement of the game.

Re: More thoughts on Space Combat

PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2016 8:10 am
by Byrn
Hi all, this is stuff I pinged at Rob in an email, will hopefully return later to have a better read of the thread

Think last session a good test of the ship combat system, I've been thinking what else might help it flow, but all I've come up with so far is recording all ships initiative roll modifiers (i.e. including stats) when they join the fight, as well as a token/mark to say who they are piloting for and whether they passed this round...

I did think about maybe just marking disabled systems with a star when they are hit, upgrading to strike through at the end of the round to avoid having to remember which systems the engineering team can try to fix (not a problem in small engagements, or those where the rounds are going quickly)

I like our mod to need initiative and piloting while all crafts shields are up, but I think it still needs a tweak somewhere, as until the shields are down the crew would just be selecting a target that they may get a negative for with no benefit.

I wondered if making fleeing only two rounds if not piloted against in either of them? Or three with for being the norm?

Re: More thoughts on Space Combat

PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2016 11:08 am
by Rob Lang
Onix wrote:I've come to the philosophy to reward a good roll rather than penalize a poor one. It amps up the excitement of the game.


LOL! I completely agree. I wonder what was going through my head on the day that I wrote the rules up. Perhaps I just hated people? I think this might be a change I make, the same goes for initiative: +10% if they are below you in the initiative ladder and -10% if they're above. We "rolled off" when the initiative was the same but if you use little mods like this then there's no need, you just don't get a mod.

Fortunately my players have known each other for ages, so the banter is excellent! Poor old Byrn was the pilot and he got the brunt.

And now for some great ideas from Byrn. Our game is run on Roll20, so we're using some Google Docs magic to make it all work.

Byrn wrote:recording all ships initiative roll modifiers ... marking disabled systems with a star when they are hit ...


Great thinking, we're going to do this. Thank you.

Byrn wrote:upgrading to strike through at the end of the round to avoid having to remember which systems the engineering team can try to fix


Been thinking about this. The turns in space combat are supposed to be longer and more fluid. I think we're going to try playing it that the engineers can fix anything - even if it's "just destroyed". By making that simpler, we get to introduce complexity elsewhere, where there might be more fun to be had.

Byrn wrote:until the shields are down the crew would just be selecting a target


I'm going to park this until below, along with your fleeing idea because I think that there is another problem that, if solved, makes this go away a bit...

Making decisions based on choices
What makes games fun is when the players have a choice between: high risk + high reward vs low risk + low reward. Balancing up the resources at hand, most players relish that choice. I'm going to bold jobs done on the ships to make my point obvious.

Choice comes in combat when Gunners select systems to shoot. For example:

"Shoot the Grav Engine so they can't flee"


Is a great call (I even mention it in the rules) but you might also choose.

"Leave the Grav Engine so that they can flee and we can follow them."


Depending on the situation, also a good call.

When the ship has taken damage, the Engineer has a choice too:

"Do I fix the grav engine first or bring weapons back online?"


Another important decision to be made by the player given the resources. There's often no right answer and I like that. @Byrn might see where I'm heading...

Where the choices could be better
Operations ultimately chooses whether to flee or fight but I think that decision is a bit weak. I'd say that's not much of a choice and not much fun. Ops almost gets told what to do. I'd like there to be more to the choice. Perhaps an interplay (tension) between Ops and Engineer where Ops can ask Engy for MORE POWER and then engy must decide whether to burn resources.

That also gives the Engineer something to do before damage is taken (when the shields are up). Perhaps the engy could sacrifice shields for more power, or re-route power, or re-route the team to "fixing that thing we've left for a month but is suddenly really important". Perhaps the Engineer should have "team points", which models how big his engineering team is. Pretty good on the campaign spacecraft but could be a problem if your crew is just the player team.

Thing to ponder #1

Shut up and roll the dice
That's the Pilot's role. Shut up. Roll dice, be the bane of existence. I don't like this at all. There is no tactical choice for the pilot at all.

In Vehicle Combat, we have manoeuvres to choose from and that works quite well. The more outrageous the manoeuvre, the bigger the reward but the bigger chance of failure. What does manoeuvre mean in Space? We've abstracted it to a ladder of "most advantageous position".

Velocity?
I was thinking of introducing velocity (the mano stat is really acceleration) as a resource that you control. The pilot can choose whether to accelerate or decelerate, making certain things easier or harder.

Thing to ponder #2 and I don't quite have a solution. I'll ponder plenty on it.

Boring shield fights
I think it might be wise to just not play out the shield bit. Jump to the point where the person with the smallest number of shields is out. Do they flee or fight? Then get into ship combat. Not really a new rule, just an expedite of the important but boring bit. It could be just a war of words that then have a mechanical effect (Soul rolls?).

Does missing the subsystem miss the hull?
I think the way to play this is "yes". You miss because you were trying to be clever and you messed it up. That's the gamble.

So, I'm still pondering all this. I'm expecting another post to pop up into this thread - most of which I'm going to agree with... ;)

Re: More thoughts on Space Combat

PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2016 4:54 pm
by Onix
Rob Lang wrote:I wonder what was going through my head on the day that I wrote the rules up. Perhaps I just hated people?

Well Icar has it's roots way back in the day. I remember this kind of rule being the norm. People felt that if you say yes to things the players will destroy the game.

[rant] I remember feeling very strongly that a called shot had to be called before hand, that was the norm. The result was that players rarely called a shot because it was a tactical disadvantage.

But really, why not let them call it after the roll? It makes interesting things happen more frequently. Me being a simulationist lead me to ponder which model is a more accurate. I think everyone that actually aims a gun is trying to hit a specific spot on a target. The only other option is "spray and pray" which is, to my understanding, used to keep an enemy from advancing, as they don't know that those bullets aren't aimed at them. So it seems that every shot should be a called shot and most of the time you just don't end up hitting the spot you wanted to hit. This seemed more accurate from my sport shooting experience.[/rant]

Conventions change and the old ones may not make sense after viewing them from the future. That's essentially what a lot of systems with old roots have to deal with.

Rob Lang wrote:That's the Pilot's role. Shut up. Roll dice, be the bane of existence. I don't like this at all. There is no tactical choice for the pilot at all.

Good point, what about this?

Up close - You bring your vessel up close to the enemy. It gives your gunners a decent bonus to hit. Naturally you're trying to fly in your enemies' blind spots but a failure means the enemy gets a bonus to hit that turn.

Evasive - You disengage the enemy and fly erratically. A success means that enemy gunners have to try harder than usual to hit. Possibly a successful roll means that the enemy can't pick subsystems to target. A failed roll means the other pilot can close the distance between ships even if the evasive ship is normally faster (it effectively moves at half speed).

Angle the deflector shields - This one might be stretching things, but maybe the pilot could keep the enemies' attacks hitting where the shields are strongest and thus get a damage reduction. Failure may mean that the shield generator is susceptible to taking damage itself?

Charge! - Hopefully there'd be some way of making it so the gunners had to be fast. Firing at the moment you're closest means you get a damage bonus. Some kind of chicken mechanism would be fun here, just maybe not very justifiable. Failure means there's a chance of a minor sideswipe collision?

Stealth - If at a distance, and using some kind of countermeasures (flares, chaff, whatever Icar has) the pilot can make their vessel hard to detect by shutting down the engines. Getting where you want to go under no power requires an accurate piloting roll the moment of the countermeasure deployment.

Just some possibilities to riff off of.

Re: More thoughts on Space Combat

PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2016 5:40 pm
by Onix
Or more simply

Help the gunners +10% on a success to gunners

Help the engineer +10% to repair efforts (reducing power demands, playing it safe, denying the other ship the chance to hit a system that the engineer is working on)

Help operations - this one would be kind of reciprocal, so maybe not.

Re: More thoughts on Space Combat

PostPosted: Fri Mar 04, 2016 11:14 am
by J.K.Mosher
I have to ask . . . before I offer some thoughts . . .

What TYPE of "space" combat are you representing Rob?
is it dog fights like in Star Wars (x-wings vs Ties), more naval like in Star Trek (Enterprise vs Romulian War Bird), or is it more "spacey" like Babylon 5 (fighters could run but also flip around to fire behind them while continuing the "forward" movement.)

Shields . . . don't get rid of shields. Best part of space combat is playing with shields . . . :D
You may want to consider allowing "bleed" through damage so while shields are active there is still chances for problems to occur. If you consider Star Trek, Star Wars and even Wing Commander, plus a host of other SciFi themed shows and movies shields helped limit but didn't stop damage from occurring. So maybe consider having the shields slow damage to systems but the shock of impact still manages to shake things loose.

Missing . . . personally I feel there should be "degrees" of miss in this. A near miss could mean the gunner didn't hit the exhaust port directly, but impacted the side, so the system may not be damaged but the structure took a hit. The further away from the target roll the less likely you landed a hit? Example . . . I make a roll and miss my target score by say 5 points or less . . . good chance I grazed the area near my intended target, however if I miss the score by say 20 points or more then maybe the shields deflected my attack.

Roles . . . All roles in a ship should have something to do, even if it is an assisting action. Opps (I'm assuming this means like the captain or command crew) could provide assistance to say the pilots by computing alternate routes, to gunners by providing alternate firing solutions, or even engineering by diverting power from systems to others. These "bonuses" could be a +5% to the assisted roles roll maybe? Pilots should have both a flying role and a reactionary role during combat, a good pilot would hear the chatter from operations to engineering and know that the starboard aft shields just died, and would if attacked attempt to "evade" the attack or turn/roll the ship so a shielded/armored portion took the hit instead. This of course could create complications to gunners who suddenly have to deal with a pilot rolling the ship to avoid more damage, and complications for the pilots . . . do they evade and cause the gunners to get upset ot allow their ship to take a hit on the chance the gunners can end the threat.

Maneuvers/Positioning . . . This is where the first question comes in. Depending on how you envision space combat makes a difference in the types of moves or tactics ships can take.
- Straight up dog fighting style would including evasive actions, getting behind/above/below targets, it basically works out to the best position to disable or destroy your target which in most (but not all) dog fights is behind and slightly above your target. So basically actions used in your vehicular system would be applicable.
- Naval style is more about dishing out more than you take. (Think WWII battleships) Shields and armor keep you in the fight longer and the bigger and more guns you have the better. But tactics like broadsides, playing dead, "club-hauling" or even ramming can change the tide of an engagement.
- "Spacey" style is kinda all of the above and more. As there are no obvious restrictions due to air resistance or gravity in deep space combat ships can flee but also flip/turn to bring their better weapons and better shields to bear against an enemy who is giving chase. It is theoretically possible for a ship to go "full ahead" cut their engines, flip around to continue fire upon a pursuer while using the forward thrusters to continue the direction of travel away from the conflict while also keeping the velocity up.

Re: More thoughts on Space Combat

PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2016 3:50 pm
by Byrn
I like the pilot manoeuvres ...

I was thinking of something along the same lines, one thing I'd add to evasive though:

Evasive - at the moment if your ship has a lower mano than one of your opponents, you cannot flee. I'd like to make this possible. If you succeed on a combat pilot roll with their highest mano mod as a negative, you get a turn of successful fleeing.

Re: More thoughts on Space Combat

PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2016 8:53 am
by baron
So my thoughts; from the perspective of the EngO.

Our ship has not taken damage yet and I have mainly just played the role of a subpar gunner.
Whilst I am happy improving my shooting skills as part of my character development (cos I am a vengeful EngO after all), I feel the main driver for pushing RP into Heavy Firing is so I am less bad at it.
I am not really doing any engineering.

I am also equally happy to have a well prepared ship running smoothly through the battle, knowing my prep has gone a long way to making sure it all goes well.

So whilst I'd like to be doing more engineering things, I wouldn't want to just be firefighting all the time. Only dealing with damage would put me in the same situation as the Pilot currently is; bad rolls penalise us, good rolls undo a penalty. In other words I am only going to get blamed. Byrnie and I are essentially goalkeepers getting blamed for failing rather than strikers getting the glory for succeeding.

I like the suggestions for "More power" where I could give the ship a bonus by being good (Bonus if I pass, normal if I fail).
e.g, "I have managed to pull some energy from non essential systems to give a boost to grav and increase manoeuvre for this round.
I also like the idea of "She cannae take it" where I could give the ship a bonus by being good, but with risk (big bonus if I pass, penalty if I fail).
e.g. "I am pushing the Grav plates above their rating, this will either give us a massive boost or halve our speed if I screw up.

The other reason I am not doing much engineering is because of the way shields work. I don't advocate skipping that stage, but at the moment I can't do anything about them. They can't be repaired/recharged until the end of the fight. That's fine, but it also means you can't do anything apart from ignore them.

I don't think turning the shield phase into a talky one that requires rolls is great to be honest. At best it will occupy the time we spend shooting each other, at worst it will just stop the fight as we diplome one way or the other.

Re: More thoughts on Space Combat

PostPosted: Wed Mar 09, 2016 10:59 am
by Rob Lang
Thanks for the great feedback. I working through some ideas to update them with this core principle:

Everyone doing a job has a tactical choice to make that either helps others or gets the team to the goal

More thoughts from last session
I am not sure if this a bi-product of Roll20 or people's distractions but I found that it I had to repeat the shooting modifiers a lot. I wonder if this because it's not obvious what's going on. I have in mind a really large combat in the future and it will get much more complex.

Alternative - building up combat initiative
If the pilot flies well, it sort of negates the work the Ops person does. Ops could roll brilliantly and if the pilot screws it, all that work is thrown away. It matters for nothing. So instead, how about:

  • Ops gets the combat initiative going (like now) by Battle + Wit + Spacecraft Combat Initiative Stat + D10
  • Bad guys do the same.
  • Engy/Pilot/Hacker/etc is then trying to get that CI bigger together - higher than the other spacecraft.
  • Engy gets to choose from a list of things to do - if they're not already fixing the ship. Some things are more risky but will increase the CI number.
  • Pilot gets to choose from a list of things to do (like those suggested above). Some manoeuvres are more tricky but bring higher CI number. There is no detriment to the pilot failing a roll.
  • Hacker provides information too.
  • Gunners can shoot at shields or hull or specific system (as now). However, the bonus they get depends on the CI number. Something simple: highest CI gets +20%, lowest gets -20%, everyone else - nothing.
  • Eng team fixes stuff. Just like now.

Now, if the CI number is way above the enemy then the team can choose to use some of it to sort out other problems. Or perhaps save it for next round.

Other things
I also want to give the Engy the choice to analyse the enemy ship (Spacecraft Know) to identity weak points. This is not open to the NPCs (not fair, I know but c'est la vie).