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?


  1. Ooops, forgot to mention overheating and the need for cooling. They're assumed in the regular rules, but something a bit more detailed might be appreciated by hard SF lovers.

  2. Joe, I cannot help you with that, but I'd love to know when the ruleset will be ready for release and if it would be possible to play dogfights with star fighters.
    Javier at war

  3. I have no idea to the first, though I think within the next month or so I should be sending it in (depends on when New Beginnings is released). As to the second: Definitely, though the rules for that work kinda like melee in other THW games- you don't have a lot of specific choices to make, it kinda just happens.

    If you wanted more detailed dueling, going slightly bigger for ships gives a lot more tactical choices.

  4. Groovy! Don't forget that as fuel gets near zero, acceleration increases, at least if the fuel mass is a large part of your ship's mass and your engines work like real rockets. (That is, they can generate the same force regardless of how much propellant remains.)

  5. There is actually an interesting way to avoid having to make rules with that.
    Make '1 fuel' an abstract amount. That is, the amount needed to accelerate your ship this much, regardless of your ship's mass. So as you get less fuel, that amount of fuel is less.

    Of course, the issue here is that then you don't actually accelerate faster (which you could in real life), so you need some rule for converting the loss of fuel into added acceleration. It shouldn't be too complicated.

  6. I'm looking forward to these rules, but I'm curious--does tracking fuel and vector mean you have to do a lot of recordkeeping?

  7. Not more than any other space game I've ever seen. Vector movement can either be tracked with a 'drift marker' or (and this is what I tend to do) you can have a little 'card' under a ship that gives all of its info. (makes me think of a cool HUD type thing). Vector is just one or two numbers (depending on how much math you want to do vs. how many numbers you want to write down- two numbers is less math, one is more) and fuel is just one.

    Given that pretty much all games for space track: Weapons, damage levels or HP, and often things like vector or fuel, this game is no more complicated than the next.

  8. Looking good. I've shifted across from my old forums to a blog http://deltavector.blogspot.com/

    Do you have a variety of weapons? Or at least allow weapons to be used in different ways?

    I.e. laser can be used as pulse (kinda PD machine gun) or std, or lance (long B5 style cutting beam with penetrating damage)

    A kinetic massdriver cannon could fire solids or 'grapeshot' that fires a huge football field size spread of ballbearings to defeat missiles...

    Missiles could be multi-warhead so they can defeat point defence; or be jammer, EW, or decoy missiles - or explode into said 'grapeshot' to defeat missiles.

  9. "Vector is just one or two numbers (depending on how much math you want to do vs. how many numbers you want to write down- two numbers is less math, one is more) and fuel is just one."

    With a drift marker, why do you need to write anything down?