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Ship to ship combat paradigm

mike wightman

SOC-14 10K
A question, well it would have been a poll if I could have worked out how to set one up ;) , about what "feel" people like to use for ship to ship combat in Traveller.
Using real world naval combat as the example,
do you like an age of sail model, or is the ironclad/early steam era more like it?
Do you prefer a WW1 big ships model perhaps?
Or is sub hunting the way it's done IYTU?

Do you prefer vector movement or abstract movement?
Massed battery fire or individual weapon mounts?

What role do spinal mounts, fighters, sensors play in your ship to ship engagements?

Just curious.
I guess if I had to classify the feel, I would say WWI. Planes (read fighters) existed but were no more than a minor annoyance or recon to major surface combatants.

I like the way the Mayday movement system works and I traditionally used the Mayday rules with the HG tables, or later MT tables. The T20 Advanced combat rules work fine for me, and address the problems of smaller ship combat inherent in the HG and MT tables. However the Large ship end falls apart in the T20 rules. So I use the T20 advanced combat rules, modified by the outline in the Sane Starship Combat Rules Thread. Further modified by not giving the extra 5 dice or +5 to hit and calling the extra time in a turn what it takes to lock on to a target at the greater ranges. (Because at the Strategic ranges you have to hit a bigger volume of space, at least that is my justification.

Spinal mounts and fighters have varying roles depending on the campaign I am running when you ask the question. (Just started a small unit Merc Campaign.) In this campaign Major Combatants have a small role and Fighters have a big role. I expect the Mercenary unit to invest in a few light fighters before long as both CAS/Armor and to give them an edge in space combat against things like 400-1200 ton Corsairs/Commerce Raiders.
I suppose that I lean towards an ironclad feel; small ships, small fleets, limited weaponry.

I use Mayday and book 2 as the basis for my combat system. Movement is vector-based on a hex grid.
Sensors are very limited and are handled as in Book 2.
My missiles retain the original 1d6 damage and I limit beam weapons to lasers, energy weapons and particle accelerators. I use some armor, and have limits on the number of weapon mounts.
No spinal mounts, no bay weapons, no nukes.
Fighters are few in number and function as torpedo boats and missile defense pickets.
no analogy, just set up the rules and it turns out the way it turns out.

2d vector. graduated sensors, with effectiveness decreasing with distance, tech level, and target size and aspect. graduated weapons, with effectiveness decreasing with distance, tech level, and target size and aspect. weapons damage by fixed dton. armor effectively ablative. each participating ship target-zoned externally and internally by aspect, using deckplan (preferred) or abstract formula, with damage effects applied by hit location rather than by random effect die roll. missiles are effectively kinetic torpedos simliar to the japanese long-lance of ww2.
Depends on what I'm gaming, Sigg.

If it's PCs in space, I use a blend of Bk2, Mayday, and HG, but it's mostly very cinematic and driven more by PC actions than by technology or rules. PCs never have large ships (the biggest was a 500dton Experimental Scout: they'd stolen it) and never had to face real warships (HG-built), just Bk2 ships. I was always much more concerned with keeping the action going and the players involved than I was in sticking to the rules.

For HG/TCS games I used HG, with occasional house rules to see what difference they made.

In terms of "feel," and speaking of full-size naval warfare, I think I'm pretty close to Bhoins: I want big, ponderous superdreadnoughts blasting away at each other, taking and dishing out punishment that would vaporize lesser ships. I want smaller ships to be darting in and out of the capital ships, firing spreads of missiles to add confusion while swarms of small but annoying fighters try to get close enough to make their individually weak weapons effective.

For PCs I want more of a game of "hide-and-seek with bazookas;" the PCs trying either to run, hide, or get in that first devastating strike. At this scale I feel the weapons (especially missiles) are very destructive to the ships involved and it's far better to hit first and avoid being hit in return.
I find I liked MT's ship combat in that it gave a place for skills and brilliant lances gave that too. That's what you need for an RPG! And some detailed resolution like damage by ship profile and layout from BL. It is just a pity BL and MT are so far from one another (try rationalizing the whole MFD thing into MT... not that simple...) in terms of ship construction and quantification.

I like the idea of 2300's star cruiser "bogey". I like the 'what is it out there?' and 'what do you mean, the scoutship just fired up a powerplant the size of a battleship?'. I just found Star Cruiser a bit too deterministic for ranges for detection/etc.

I guess I'm more a 'Balance of Terror' sort of guy. To me, space combat will be like a bunch of blindfolded guys running around a large gymnasium with bows and broadswords. They'll be trying to sneak up on people they can't see but might hear if they are lucky, but they could just walk right into someone else's weapons. Space is big and dark and beam weapons arrive faster than even a computer can think.

If I was looking for the ideal ship combat game, it would have:
- vector movement
- good rules for realistic terrain (no star wars asteroid belts, but rules for planets, nebula, etc)
- rules that integrated character skills (pilot, ships boat, sensor ops, navigation, engineering, computer, etc)
- rules that handled ships from about 10 tons up to about 5000 tons (beyond that, let's break out 5FW or Imperium)
- rules that made finding and correctly identifying your target the first challenge, then penetrating the defenses the second challenge
I use Mayday movement, and MT Unit/Vehicle/Personal combat rather than the HG variant (the stock MT ship combat).

I've used Bogey rules with it, and the extra sensor rules from WBH are nice.

I tend to think of it as a WWII/Korea non-air model. Fighters being equivalent to a light AC (say 1" 30cal) on a motor launch, and heavy fighters being PT boats. Big, armored ships create safe zones for friendly fighters, but those fixed tube torps on the skiffs and PTs can crack ships if they get numbers and/or good shots. And meson guns are Nuke Rounds fired from canon. Big ships can be killed by little ships, just not likely to.

Of course, with the MT damages I came up with for MG's, a factor A is a lethal enough beastie: it can kill a 10KTd DE in one good hit.

My keys for a good ship combat for roleplaying:
1) Maneuver matters
2) Skill rolls, not skills as DM's to "Wargame rolls"
3) ranges of ships from tiny through multi-thousand crew monsters. (Currently, Carriers are the peak, at about 5K...some of the ships in Traveller have 50Kcrew... and that's about the size limit for me...)
4) Sensor rules that are simple but playable
5) Rules that allow active hiding. (In space, you ARE a bright spot in the IR. The question is: how bright, and in which direction?
6) Rules that allow crippling shots, an niggling shots that accumulate, and shots that do no significant damage.

WEG-SW2E was about right for me. MT's vehicle rules also were about right. HG never was.
I use a version of Book 2 "souped up" by Sigg Oddra's house rules.

IMTU most polities use a WWII/early Cold War style paradigm, which means that fighters and bombers (read: slow fighters with lots of missiles and a good computer) matter, and the carriers (or the multiple Battlecruisers in the Alliance version of this paradigm) are the core of the fleet.

The Matriarchate uses a radically different paradigm which I call the "mongol horde" doctrine, that is throwing a huge number of small starships (in the 400 dton range) at the enemy, each armed with missiles ans plasma/fusion. There are, ofcourse, a few "motherships", 5,000 dton planetoid monstrosities with as many weapons as they could mount.
I always liked the T4 rules, as played by my little group. Hits on an area, which do this kind of damage. Of course, I've only really paid attention to it during play, and haven't read my copy thoroughly...
Like others, my prefered model depends on the scale of conflict. If it's "PCs in a can", there may not even be a map. If there is, then Mayday and Book 2 are strong influences on the feel.

For fleets at war, I'll go to a combat mechanic that supports the scale of the conflict, with rule sets like Battle Rider.
Ok, after a quick appraisal of the replies here are some initial conclusions about what sort of paradigm people prefer for ship to ship combat:

a vector movement system is a required feature

sensors should play some part in the combat

fighters should have a role to play

the full range of HG weapon types should be detailed

a detailed hit location and damage effects system

the system should be scalable

PC skills should play a role.
Originally posted by Sigg Oddra:
A question, well it would have been a poll if I could have worked out how to set one up ;) , about what "feel" people like to use for ship to ship combat in Traveller.
If I need accuracy I use Mayday movement with HG/MT combat tables for small ships, or Power Projection for large ships. But normally I just use a abstract narrative system for something slightly Star Wars-y.

To give the players a role-playing ... er ... role I set it up like FASA's Star Trek RPG (later "Starship Combat Simulator") where each player has a different bridge position (supported with some game aids).

Regards PLST
Originally posted by Sigg Oddra:
Do you prefer . . .
  • Era/Feel: Honorverse (Fast ships fighting realistic engagements.)</font>
  • Movement: Vector vs. Abstract: Vector for limited numbers of ships, Abstract for large numbers of ships.</font>
  • Massed Batteries vs. Individual Mounts: Massed Batteries for big ships, Individual Mounts for small ships.</font>
  • Spinal Mounts: Huzzah! But they need to be much tougher to aim.</font>
  • Fighters: Need to be allowed to group themselves and then mass batteries across groups.</font>
  • Sensors: We need sensor rules that don't make my head explode.</font>
  • ECM: Ditto on Sensors.</font>
  • ECCM: Ditto on ECM.</font>
And, on top of the above, some realistic communications rules could be introduced.

How many open and secure channels can a particular communications suite support? How can we tell if it supports frequency agility, burst transmission, etc., ad infinitum?
a vector movement system is a required feature
is a playing surface? depending on the sensor and weapons rules and the resulting tactics the graphic portrayal can get quite large.
sensors should play some part in the combat
the sensor rules will drive all tactics, maneuver, weapons selection and employment.
fighters should have a role to play
this is a top down approach - deciding beforehand what results you want and then attempting to arrive at them. you wind up with weird rules that way (cf T20 feats).
a detailed hit location and damage effects system
I would require it, but it's not easy to do. even if successful it takes quite a bit of work and not everyone will agree with any method proposed.
Originally posted by Sigg Oddra:
a vector movement system is a required feature
Agreed. For me, this is the hallmark of a hard sci-fi environment. If I wanted swooping and turning, I'd be playing Star Warriors or Full Thrust with cinematic movement or Red Chicken Rising or some other 'cinematic' system of movement that bore little relationship to Newton...

sensors should play some part in the combat
How you do this part will be *the* defining aspect of your game. This can either make the game a sub hunt or a 'know where everything is' game.

fighters should have a role to play
I take Leviathan's approach

Fighters (when attacking a monster like a Tigress) should have to arrive in large squadrons (in Leviathan, it is squadrons of I believe a thousand).

Engaging smaller ships like a Beowulf or Marava, they should be a threat singularly.

the full range of HG weapon types should be detailed

Hmmm. I guess that depends. In a perfect world, yes. But no PC ship I ever run in an RPG-driven space combat will ever feature the word 'Meson' in it. Likely weapons for small ships are lasers, sandcasters, missiles, and maybe particle or plasma/fusion barbettes if you go a bit larger. Maybe a few of the smaller bays.

I did like what Brilliant Lances did with MFDs, but unfortunately it doesn't map to other non-TNE ship creation systems very well. :(

a detailed hit location and damage effects system
Yes, and having some sort of rules for raking fire (when you apply repeated hits along the side of a long thin ship) or blow-through fire (such as when you cross the T of a long cylindrical ship and fire down the length) would be nice. The advantages in going broadside with someone would be probability of damage to more areas of the ship, but any individual hit might well result in blow through and wasted energy. On the other hand, taking one 'down the gullet' might well expend the full energy of the shot into area after area of the ship. And having the ship's geometry control the damage would be wonderful. BL did this reasonably well...

the system should be scalable
I think you've just entered Holy Grail territory here. Yes, it'd be lovely. Do I believe it can be done? Having been on design/playtests lists for several games now... no. I don't believe it can be done *well*. It can be done, but at a cost.

I think you'd be better off picking what kind of system you are looking at (RPG extension or large scale combat simulator) and building the best version you can.

Trying to make a scalable system.... is interesting... but how useful in play?

Do I really need to know how much damage a 100 ton laser bay can do to my character?

I have this same issue with people carping about a scaleable combat system for T5 or T20. The truth is, once you start having to do that, you start having to define the types of impact single characters can have as negigible. If a beam laser from a ship comes anywhere near your character, time to get out 2d6. Similarly, if a 0.5Mdton BB pings a 100 ton Scout-courier with its fire control system, that's probably enough to blow out panels all over the ship! It doesn't even need to take its range finders off 'laser pointer' mode to cripple anything that small....

PC skills should play a role.
Depends what you are building. But I'd say they need to play *the central role* since my players want to think the game is 'about them'.

The answer to what people want depends on if they are the folks that play and GM traveller actively or the people who conduct gedankenexperimenten about who could have done what during whichever historical conflict. As Larsen puts it, the difference between those who 'play Traveller' and those who 'play with Traveller'. Neither is better or worse, but you better know who your audience is because odds are it is pretty near impossible to please both at once.
Flykiller and Kaladorn raised some excellent points.
There's another issue you might want to consider as well and this is tied in to some extent with the game scale: playability.
It's going to vary widely and might even be worth another poll question: "how long should it take to resolve a battle between fleets/between individual ships?"
Detailed damage results are probably going to need either a deckplan or a TNE-style location table. While this is fine for player ships, that might well bog down a fleet game. Some form of graceful detail shedding would go a long way towards increasing playability.

Ship design might be another issue. There's probably a good deal of variability in how much people are willing to invest in designing ships.
I'm a small-ships, LBB2, K.I.S.S. kind of designer. A system that I like is probably not going to have a lot of appeal for a more serious gearhead.

There's another issue, although I may be overstating this through personal bias; T4, and Brilliant Lances/Battle Rider seem to have most of what you need, but they don't seem to be very popular. If this is true and not just my own misperception, finding out what they did "wrong" could be as enlightening as finding out what people want.