Sunday, March 29, 2015

It's Been Too Long

I don't imagine I've been too missed, but I thought it'd be good to just give a brief update.

The short of it is that I've been extremely busy. I moved, I'm studying Mathematics and Physics at the University of Chicago, and what little time I've had to game has been spent integrating myself with some new gaming groups in the area (some of that started before my last update, but was also after a long hiatus…)

More specifically on gaming:

1) I decided I was too busy to continue working directly on Fringe Space. Perhaps when things calm down I'll return to the project to some degree (for various reasons I doubt I'll be 'lead'), but as of now it is Ed the THW guy's. I wouldn't be surprised if, once it is closer to coming out, it ends up with a different name, either. But for fellow THW fans, know that a more space-focused 5150: Urban Renewal expansion is still in the works. If that's something you're particularly itching for, it's probably something you can vote for in the "in the pipeline" polls that go up on the forum and yahoo group occasionally. 

2) Board games are the busy man's friends. 

3) I've run some one-off scenarios for others (some gamers, some not, but none with a real background in tactical miniatures games) that have been a lot of fun. Some 5150 (often with slight mods), but also one game of Tomorrow's War. Also two runs at Death Test. I had fun, as did others, but I've noticed a trend-- I'm still the wargaming equivalent of the "eternal game master." The other gamers tend to focus on light board games. Which means I kinda miss my 40k days, when my gaming group could pool ideas, energy, and resources a bit more.

4) I have a battle-plan. I dug up some of my old 40k stuff. I got Rogue Trader, 3rd-5th edition rulebooks, and the codices for my army. I've still got my issues with the rules. And also the setting. But to be honest, with so much time in the world of more tactical and "sim-ish" games, DIY setting, and hard SF, I'm sort of feeling something different. And empirically people get into this stuff. It's also the only miniatures game with which anyone else in the area can 'meet me halfway' without any real effort-- there are others with old dusty armies and codices. So I figure I'll have some fun updating my old forces to my greater abilities (some of the old paint jobs are pretty bad, and more tactical gaming has made me better even at 40k's tactics, I hope), subversively putting Rogue Trader references in what will likely be 4th edition forces, and throwing dice with some friends. And then maybe I can lead them beyond the comfort of nostalgia and IGOUGO.

5) I have been doing some light game experimentation. Calling it game development might be a bit too far, as I've play tested only twice, and the rules are very barebones. It's basically a hardcore d-10 based RPG modern combat system. Or maybe a squad vs. squad level sim. The basic idea was to make a game where the decisions are more about individual soldier placement and action, building into an overall squad performance (choosing to peek out at this moment, choosing to have the leader get his men moving rather than acting himself, choosing to clear a room by rushing all the troops in or by slowly pie-ing the corner). From what I've heard No End In Sight might be working with some similar concepts, but I still think the basic idea is pretty different from anything I've played (or even heard of): Soldiers are either "In Contact" or "Not In Contact."Troops Not In Contact activate as units (representing formations moving together seamlessly), but once in contact activate individually. Enemy fire basically makes activation more difficult. Leaders have more activation dice that they can loan out to troops around them-- even into a whole cluster together, if the troops are not suppressed. Suppressed troops, however, require individual attention to activate. Other than that, there are no morale rules at the moment. Leaders are somewhat arbitrarily defined. There is only one statistic. 

Actions are pretty much built around an "action point" concept, although streamlined by the rules to get rid of bean counting-- so we have things like sprinting and nothing else, crawling low and nothing else, combat speed movement and snap firing, holding still and taking an aimed shot, or holding still and firing enough semi-accurate fire to get a suppression bonus. Actions are performed in order of activation die roll so that troops who roll higher either don't activate at all (and do an automatic action that basically holds them in place the vast majority of the time) or can choose whether to act first or defer (which means better troops can seize the initiative in the admittedly rare case that this is an advantage, and most of the time instead can wait and see what the enemy does and then act accordingly-- the interactions treat actions as simultaneous, essentially). 

There are currently three "Interactions"-- cases where troopers of different sides interact in challenges, if you will. Spotting is the first, which takes the most recent action of both troopers into account. A soldier sprinting down a road while an enemy is sitting watching the road is at a pretty large disadvantage. Once Spotted, a trooper remains Spotted unless he manages to Break Contact; simply being out of LOS is not actually enough. Say I'm Spotted and I Spot my enemy, too. I duck behind a lone tree in an open field that is in his sight. Sure, he can't see me, but he knows where I am. I still am thinking like someone who is in danger. I'm still in Contact. My enemy however is as well until he moves while my LOS is blocked (by the tree)-- he can move to a new firing position and if I peek out I'll have to try spotting him again while he can easily be firing on my still known position. Reaction is the second interaction; a successful Spotting will cause a Reaction (the spotting trooper decides to fire at a new contact), but already Spotted troops can also cause Reactions by performing any action other than taking cover in LOS of an enemy. Both of these interactions are based around rolling dice and counting successes against one another, with modifiers to the number of dice being based upon the most recent action performed by a figure (hence the feeling of simultaneity). 

The final interaction is shooting: Basically two dice are rolled against Skill for every 'shot' of ROF, and both must succeed to 'hit.' The defender then throws dice (the number of dice based on his cover) against his own Skill. Any successes result in the hit being commuted to Suppression. I've currently played that being hit (resulting from failing those cover dice, or being caught in the open and without cover dice and hit) is an automatic incapacitation but I'll change that down the line to allow for armor and injuries and so on. A survivor of an attack totals his suppression hits (with an addition based upon the Suppression Value of the weapon that targeted him) and rolls that number of dice against his skill; any failures result in being suppressed, which makes activation much more difficult next turn (and he's still targetable, even if ducking down breaks LOS, as his cover is still targetable until he moves while out of LOS, so he is easy to keep suppressed). There is one get out of jail card for troops that are worried about failing their cover dice (or who don't have cover dice)-- if they have direct LOS to the enemy and spotted them before being targeted (so they aren't ambushed or getting shot in the back), they can add a Cover Die for free at the cost of being forced to fail Suppression. 

What this all means: a soldier in the open who is shot at by an unseen target is pretty much dead. The option to take an Aimed Shot or not is a little complex and situational, but in short, a meh-ish trooper (Skill 5 shooting) with an assault rifle (ROF:3 Suppression Value: 0) will kill a target roughly 50% of the time either way-- the complexity comes in the chance of getting spotted by other enemies, whether they are attempting to kill multiple enemies in one burst, etc. Adding in cover, spotting the enemy first (which doesn't help against Aimed Shots-- if you're in the open that +1 for Taking Cover at the last moment is counteracted by Aimed Shot's -1 Cover Die) quickly reduces those odds: just sitting behind a wall makes it only 12.5% chance of the aimed shot killing (assuming the defender has equivalent abilities). As I'm sure is apparent, the importance of causing suppression goes up as the enemy's cover or ability increased. A quick ambush by okay troops (Skill 5-6) against unsuspecting enemies, or flanking fire on suppressed enemies, or firing on enemies who are ineffective in using cover, can quickly result in all enemies incapacitated without any chance to react. Meanwhile firefights between troops who spot each other and have cover quickly become elaborate dances: individual soldiers roll around behind cover to get the advantage of unexpected new firing positions while their squad mates provide just enough fire to keep the enemy from suppressing the whole team, leaders shout orders to individual soldiers who need the extra push, and the whole thing is all about trying to use just the right amount of Aimed and Suppressing Fire to let your troops get a bit closer with a grenade or flanking position. 

Usually once that beings to happen it is clear to the enemies to fall back, though… which means if you don't have pinning units or allies ready to ambush, a true firefight often ends with few casualties. 

It sounds complicated but with streamlined charts it plays pretty fast. I'm hoping I can work on it and push it to platoon level with the addition of action chits. Armor and wounds need to be added, but I'm thinking that barring good armor the current model of general incapacitation will remain for anything bigger than a pistol as the current casualty rates are very realistic. Vehicles will be a whole extra problem (I'm hoping I can treat them basically as  soldiers with excellent armor and more limited options). I'll want to add activation bonuses outside of those supplied to leaders (so that Special Forces are more independent and likely to keep moving without a leader, for example). I also might want to see if I can backtrace the mechanics to a wider range of stats (so number of activation dice could be one, accuracy could be one, a "cool" stat for resisting suppression,  and so on). 

Anyway, it's something I'm hoping I can spend more time on. Right now my play tests are a bit out of date (things were a bit too in favor of the target in shooting previously and it ended up with situations where people were standing next to each other, both 'peaking' around a shared corner yet getting cover for no logical reason, and blazing away for no effect), but I feel pretty good with where this is going. Any comments would be greatly appreciated, however!

As a final note, I'm also looking into taking my space combat rules (long detached from Fringe Space) and releasing them as a small standalone thing.

Anyway, hoping to update more frequently again, both with rules (space combat? Ground combat? RPG stuff?) and with bat reps (even 40k, perhaps). I'll probably get painting again, too. Thanks for reading!

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