Monday, August 29, 2011


Decided to play a quick battle the other day. No planets, no space junk, no nothing.
The base idea was a laser battle ship (with some missiles, as well, but definitely a focus on the laser) versus a small fleet of ships- a corvette, a frigate, and some fighters, with a mixture of missiles, "cannon-missiles" (the old cannons have been replaced with somewhat more effective weapons that basically are guns with seeker bullets...), and a small laser.

So, of course, the battle ship, a Gaea Prime patrol ship, was named Ogre.

Ogre is steadily flying through a well travelled wormgate, heading towards the Fifth Ring. Its powerful laser, an expensive weapon, makes it a good weapon of domination. If Gaea Prime can get through to its colonies in the Fifth Ring, it will provide a powerful defensive and offensive weapon that can be used to influence the entire Ring.

Unfortunately, there are many independent planets within the Fifth Ring. Several of them have put together their small amount of resources to form a strike team to try to prevent Ogre from making it to its destination. In a straight up fight, Ogre would be able to outrange this small fleet, but due to the highly travelled and civilian nature of much travel through this wormgate, they can avoid being shot at until they get within range.

Ogre is traveling alone for gameplay balance because the mission was meant to be secret until the ship arrived- Ogre is trying to pass off as a regular patrol ship, not an artillery weapon. Unfortunately, rebels within Gaea Prime have contacted some of their friends...

Ogre is in the lower right hand corner,  while the strike team is in the upper left hand corner. Note my clever idea of combining the Ship Stats Card with the "stand," so that all the info (even vector) is given by a quick glance.
The ships approach each other.

Ogre's sensors note that these particular "merchant ships"  are getting oddly close....

The Strike Team, knowing that at this point they are pushing their luck, decide to engage (they could've waited even longer, but would risk losing their 'first shot' advantage).

The corvette (Y-Wing) shoots off all of its missiles in one volley (using the new missile rules that don't require you to track the missiles but still allow them to be shot down), which are quickly shot down by Ogre's main laser. In response, Ogre fires all of its missiles at the corvette, hoping to beat the frigate's (the  Bird of Prey) light laser. They do, and, due to the corvette's weak armor, easily obliterate it.

The Captain notes that it was not wise to do this, as, had they taken the time to identify the enemy's weapons and calculate the number of missiles needed (far fewer than they shot), they could've had more missiles for later. But, in the spur of the moment, the reaction (hint hint) was instinctive, as the gunners tried to take out the enemy as quick as possible without finding out the best way to do so.

Meanwhile, the remaining ships of the strike team accelerate forward a bit (using the new fuel rules) and start shooting their weapons at long range, causing nothing but a scratch in Ogre's shiny metallic paint job.

Unfortunately for the Strike Team, the laser keeps firing, incinerating a Fighter (or a fighter squadron... depends on your views on scale).

It probably would've been wise for the Strike Team to wait to engage Ogre at all, as they could've gotten very close before Ogre would open fire... but then there is a higher chance that more of them would've died without ever firing a shot as they tried to keep their cover. 

The next activation again went to the Strike Team, and Ogre decided to stay back again, conserving fuel and trying to keep the enemy distant without endangering the overall goal of getting to the destination on time (getting there on time is extra important now that people will know that Ogre is coming).
Due to relatively low fuel and a need to get back home (if they survive), the strike team doesn't accelerate, and instead continues to fire on Ogre, going forward at a steady pace.

Their fire starts causing problems for Ogre, causing more external damage to various systems (some thrusters were damaged, reducing acceleration, and a small fuel leak caused some additional movement problems). On the other hand, Ogre's main laser continues to shoot down targets, killing another fighter and the frigate, reducing the Strike Team to two fighters.

This picture makes most hard SF fans cry.
The final assault begins! having gotten close to a now slightly damaged Ogre, the remaining ships intend to avoid fire and get highly accurate shots into sensitive areas.
Of course, this is a world of (cinematic) realism, so its not going to be easy.

The dogfight initiates, though Ogre totally fails its response test and doesn't get a good shot until the close range attack begins.

The dice are added up, similar to how Melee works in most THW games, and successes are counted.

The dogfight system was adjusted slightly before this game to balance it a bit (make it less powerful while still being different than regular combat). With some skillful maneuvering, avoiding the singular main weapon of Ogre, one of the fighters gets a shot off (with bonus Impact!) at the Ogre... and pushes it into Light Damage! In addition, special damage effects (2 at once, in fact) causes some of Ogre's armor to be chipped away (making future attacks more likely to damage) and causes a violent shake that kills one of the chief gunnery officers! (reducing Fight statistic).

The winners of a dogfight get to adjust position and vector, to an extent.
Things are starting to look bad for Ogre, but the Strike Team is almost out of fuel.
The next turn sees another dogfight while ogre continues to try to shoot down the remaining fighters. Luckily for Ogre, it takes out one of the fighters. However, the remaining fighter once again succeeds in the dogfight and gets another Light Damage on Ogre... bumping it up to Heavy Damage and causing more special damage effects, including the knocking out of Ogre's main thrusters! its immobilized (and can only turn very slowly).

Ah, and then the realism hits. The remaining fighter is making its final attack run, causing more and more damage by nailing the vulnerable parts of Ogre.... and the pilot notices its almost out of fuel. The pilot starts changing vector, knowing that going back towards base at a slow speed will allow the ship to still have the fuel necessary to come to a stop... but it has to leave Ogre unkilled (its a sitting duck, now, so it could've possibly done it). 

Instead of a heroic sacrifice, the fighter accepts the slight victory (at least Ogre is greatly slowed down, though most of the damage is of the field repairable sort) and gets ready for the slightly long trip home.

The crew of Ogre gets to work on fixing up those engines....

The game only took 30 minutes to play, though it wasn't a very complex battle (did use most of the more specialized rules in one go, however). 

I think this game is going well. Its got a sort of 'cinematic realism.' Its not how space combat is actually going to be, most likely, at least not for most eras, but it combines a sort of realism (vector movement, vaguely realistic weapons and ships, etc) with a cinematic feel (daring combat, fleets of ships slugging it out in space, small ships have a balance with big ships, and so on), and I think that fits THW's style.

On one hand, THW has fairly realistic rules, where characters act realistically due to reactions, and tactics are realistic due to 'real time' simulated by Reactions. On the other hand, the fights are cinematic, with Stars being the most obvious example. 

I think this game takes a similar idea- it has room for the 'realistic' tactics that most hard SF fans think will come up, but it also has room for the space heroes zoom around in ships and have fun.

In more literary terms, I think its a sort of reconstruction of 'fun' space combat. It says, yes, ships don't move like boats or airplanes, and the tactics are all different from those, and war is cold, but, with the right balance of technologies and powers, it still results in an exciting, fast paced combat game where tactics and decisions matter, there is a human element, and ships and weapons are balanced in interesting ways.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dealing With Realism

I think that with the changed armor rules I've hit a nice balance with this game.

Its interesting enough on a tactical level that playing a campaign with just one ship would be fun, but simple enough that you can play larger fights. Probably up to about 40 ships a side, counting every coupla fighters as one ship.

Anywho: Dealing With Realism.

I'm an avid follower of sites like Atomic Rockets, Rocketpunk Manifesto, and others. All are basically devoted to hard space sci fi.

Now, 5150: Space is rather vague on many subjects (distances being a big one, the exact meaning of damage, etc), with only a few things truly defined. Here's some:

Everything uses vector movement, just like they do in real life.

Gravity works more realistically than most games (turns aren't in real time, so its not perfect, but the distances work correctly)

Lasers diffract, missiles can be shot down (and move like small ships), and cannons are really only good for cost and space reasons.

Running out of propellant/fuel/whatever your ship is using is a real issue (though consumption is unrealistically random.... changed as an optional rule)

What this relative  vagueness means is that you can easily (well... all the conversions might be hard...) run a game based on, say, a real life robotic trip to Mars (just convert all of the distances and speeds to inches, keeping the relative numbers) with everything working more or less properly, the way it should, except fuel (see below), which would still work out about right, if you converted your numbers based on fuel (the right way to do it). Thats hard SF. 

You could also just run a war game that keeps most things vague with the knowledge that its all pretty realistic but we don't know the details of how it'd all actually work (why the laser takes up this much space compared to this cannon, that is) and some details might not be quite right, but a good approximation. Thats basically if you add weapons and combat.

Then you can play Star Wars. Sure, ships in Star Wars don't use vector movement, and the blasters act more like cannons than lasers, but convert a few terms here and there (and vector movement doesn't really LOOK that different than cinematic movement on a tabletop) and it all works out. In fact, you're making Star Wars a bit more realistic without losing the Star Warsiness. Good job.

So that vagueness is a good thing.
However, I want to be able to (at least) have a 'Realism' modification at the end of the rules adjusting a few things to make them more realistic.

So I sent around some stuff at SFconism-1 (a hard SF yahoogroup) about the game to see what sort of things they thought would need to be changed for realism. Note, however, that none of these things really detail the game more (that is, damage is still a bit vague). This has to do with the scale of the game more than the realism.

Here are the main things that came up:

1) Fuel. This one is obvious, fuel needs to be more consistently related to actions. This isn't hard to fix, and actually I'd be changing a rule BACK by doing this.

2) The relationships between Cannons, Lasers, and Missiles are pretty realistic already.... though lasers should not diffract quite as fast as they do, missiles should work as they do in the 'advanced' rules (that is, you shoot them as if they were ships) and, along with cannons, should use the impact rules for damage generation. These would both effectively make lasers the kings of the battlefield (though in niche roles missiles would be nice too, as the enemy would need to waste laser shots to shoot them down). Cannons don't seem to have much of a place in space warfare, as they're not accurate in the same way as missiles and lasers. This is already true, but could be made a bit more obvious.

3) Most seem to get upset whenever I mention Fighters. Its true, fighters are generally considered unrealistic. However, this has more to do with effectiveness than plausibility. You CAN make a space fighter, it does have less inertia than a big ship going the same speed, and it will have a lower delta V (change in velocity, for those who don't know),  that is, lower inches per turn times fuel. Now, given those rules are all followed, the real issue comes down to Fighters showing the secret problem in all the distances and ranges; ships move too fast and weapons are too short range (ignoring missiles, which are pretty good against fighters at long range, though have normal problems with ECM and other defenses, as well as good old evasion). Basically, the way to fix this would just be to make fighters easier to hit (getting rid of their To Hit modifier) and making lasers longer range- cannons work just fine as is.
Also, the rules work for fighters with people or without, so... I wouldn't worry too much about that being an issue.

4) 3D movement. I tried it, it didn't change anything. The game played exactly the same way. Which makes sense- unlike with planes, going up is the same as going left, or any other direction. It just gives you 2 more directions to track movement in (directions you unfortunately can't represent on the tabletop effectively), which doesn't change anything.
However, for those who want it, they can just track it.

5) The acceleration changes based upon using up fuel. This ties nicely in with adjusted fuel system, and is also, nicely, easy to do.

SO.... any other ideas about standard things that are got wrong you want to see gotten right? Or is this just a waste of time? Any other thoughts?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Scenario Generator Concept

Well, its been awhile!
I've been a bit busy for the past several weeks, and then took a vacation in Maine, which I got back from only yesterday.

However, with slight tweaks, I did get to find out that the new armor/damage system works very well and, in a strange, arbitrary way, I get more fun out of it. I did have to actually raise weapon damage slightly for it to work, however (this was a design oversight), so that smaller weapons could still chip away at somewhat larger ships.

In addition, the adjusted fuel/action rules work well and really streamline play, and also allow for a couple of new options. I also found that I had to increase the amount of fuel ships had to start with. I also came up with some alternate rules (well, slightly modified) for 'realistic' campaigns where you automatically lose SOME fuel, but still take fuel checks to avoid wasting fuel. The rules make me think of Destination Moon.

One change I definitely had to make was generally increasing crew's Fly, Fight, and Fix scores. In the final game, a military ship would never have a score of 3 for more than one, and even then that would imply a bad crew.

At this point I'm working more on special weapons/defenses and other systems, ship attributes (not unlike the attributes in CR3, but for ships...), and the ship design system (I have two in competition, not sure which I like more).

Also, the campaign and scenario rules, the subject of this post.

It occurred to me, as I sat upon the top of Cadillac Mountain eating lobsters and blueberries (or so I'm told, the Maine trip was rather fast and turned into something of a blur), that scenario design basically comes down to the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.

Who: Whatever models you're using
What: Killing each other
Where: Your table
When: After work, before sleep
Why: Hopefully its fun
How: This is what you find out when you play

That would be the normal standup fight scenario, when there is no story behind a game.
More story driven games have those W's replaced by bits of story. Who becomes Captain Kirk and Mr Spock against the Klingons, Where becomes Alpha Centauri II, and so on.

This is far from groundbreaking, and this exact idea of using the 5 W's (and the H) has been used (well, at least mentioned) in THW games before.

Of course, this applies more or less equally to campaigns and scenarios.
The big idea I had, though, was that you could use the  5 W's as changing factors on a scenario generator.

For example, say you have your ship traveling between two planets, A and B, in the 3rd month of your campaign. Along the way, you check to see if you get an encounter.... and you do!

So you fill out the 5 W's, probably in this order:
1)When: The 3rd Month and Where: Between A and B
2) What: (Rolling on a chart) A deserted ship!

So now you know, as you travel between A and B in the 3rd month since getting your ship, you detect a deserted ship! Why the ship is there and Who is on the ship (or used to be, or who made it this way... its all possible) are not determined yet, it depends on How you interact with it.

Do you board it? Then you'll quickly find out (as you go room to room) Who is or is not on the ship. Randomly generated "Info Markers" will give you more, well, info, representing finding computers, papers, diaries, whatever.... you find out:

Who: The ship was a small colonization ship with a dozen colonists on board, and they are nowhere to be found.
Why: The ship was attacked by pirates!
In addition, you find an addition to the What: The ship was carrying extremely valuable cargo!

Now, at the point you find out about the pirates, and discover they are not still on board (or on a ship very nearby) then you sort of 'start over.' Now you know the following:
Who: Pirates
What: have stolen treasure, possibly prisoners
Where: Perhaps known, perhaps not.... if you are totally lacking information in such an important area, you get an automatic clue that lets you get 'on the trail.' That is, you might not know they are on Planet C, but you know you can find out if you interrogate a guy on Planet B.
When: Now!
Why: Probably because they are pirates, but there could be other reasons... you'll need to find out more when you get to the pirate's hide out.

How do you deal with this? Chase the pirates? find out more info at a pirate haven? Whatever...

Anyway, the adventures sort of expand as you go into them. At each layer there will probably be rewards and risks (rarely will a layer only contain more info to get to a new layer, as that is just padding the length of an adventure), and as things get more dangerous the higher the chance will be that this is the final layer, at which point you get the big rewards for success (That is, you finally find the treasure.... which is most likely to happen after you generated 24 pirates with power armor and Rapid Fire Lasers than after generating a single pirate with a  pistol as the guards).

It would be an interesting scenario generator, I think.... and good for campaigns. I think you could also build in red herrings and have mystery elements that would work (even though it doesn't KNOW if he killed the guy, and not the red alien, if you find info that suggests it, you could make the chance increase.... though there is still the chance he is a red herring built in).

The issue would be more in complexity. It might take awhile to write, and you could end up with a few weird situations... though its relatively easy to fix, once you find a problem.

I'm also sure that this will be adjusted to match up with the system that New Hope City or New Beginnings is using.... which, luckily, seems to not be that different than the one I'm describing.

The TRUE issue has more to do with making the W's fit into anyone's game.... they'll need to be somewhat vague (so that they all work together, no matter what the order, and so that they work in any setting.... the player will need to fill in gaps, but it shouldn't be hard most of the time).

I think the best way to do that would be to have the TIGU (Traveller Inspired Generic Universe) that most sci fi gamers seem to use in mind when I write the scenario bits.