Creative Corner > Game Design

Steamspace- Ship vs Ship combat.


Actually this one is less mechanical and more flavor, but its close enough.  For those unaware, Steamspace is my pet project, a soft sci fi space fantasy setting which I often make comparisons to Outlaw Star.  One of the big draws is ship vs ship combat being done easier.  On the nature of the ship combat, that issue is pretty much settled (it is almost identical to ground based combat).  Instead I'm trying to tackle the issue of impersonality and player agency.

The Outlaw Star comparisons are apt; ships are more Millennium Falcon sized, and not 40k sized crafts.  They fly around at high speed and sometimes engage in melee.  Still, I was thinking I may need to focus more on the use of fighter craft, single-person ships for people to fight in.  They can still fight in the main mothership but most will be outside.  It brings in a new tactical dynamic, since not only do they need to survive but the mothership must survive (and it's a big target) because fighter crafts don't have warp drives.

Anyway, on impersonality and player agency; I've heard that scenarios which have people simply being FTL-like minions moving about the ship, simply acting as stat boosters to the ship or worse, having the shots being called by only a single player (the pilot) is boring, and understandably so.  Previously it was fixed by having people commanding bits of the ship: The gunner guns, the pilot moves, the repair guy repairs, etc.  But what happens when the number of PCs and the number of ship systems don't match?  Too few PCs, and you need some kind of AI or NPCs to handle the rest.  Too many, and some PCs are left out or done doing boring tasks (repair).  Slowly things went from systems needing to be manned, to systems being AI driven but superior of manned.  It may change further still.

I'd like to pick your minds, do you think this is a good path I am pursuing by focusing on fighter craft?  Fighter craft can be tailored to the number of PCs there are much easier.  Someone may want to still stay on the mother ship and treat that as their fighter craft of choice, with the various options that gives.  Should I be having PCs who stay on the mothership be superior to what the ship can do on autopilot?  And if so, by what degree?  I fear if I make it too extreme of a difference, it will make it that being on autopilot is a death sentence for the mothership's survival.

Discuss, and you will receive cookies.

(EDIT: I almost forgot.  The other thing I figured I might stress is that a lot more ship attacks apply "status effects", such as breaches, breaking systems, disabling this or that, reducing speed, and whatnot.  During each round the PCs inside their respective ships can perform on-ground actions affecting the ship like trying to seal a breach which has appeared, if needed.  It is a bit slower since it adds "PCs" to the initiative, but I think it may be more exciting.)

Star Wars Saga Edition is the system that has done ship combat the best, in my experience.  Although it has some serious problems.  Like what you're aiming for with Steamspace, space combat there is fairly similar to ground combat.  As a general matter, I think the ship system needs to be fiddly enough to really be able to distinguish between ships -- I need to be able to tell the difference between the Falcon, an X-Wing, and the Outlaw Star. 

The biggest problem SWSE had with it is that you were forced to distribute your character creation resources between ground/personal abilities and space abilities, which created all sorts of problems. 

I think the basic approach you're describing, where most base systems can function, either via AI or by a single character handling multiple systems, works fine.  Really, I think the basic one where you need to have someone "manning" some system to have X or Y effect is fine, too.  That's probably simpler, which is good.  A lot of players' eyes seem to glaze over when it comes to ship combat. 

The devil is in the details in, I think, two ways.  First, just each of those systems needs to be interesting in its own right.  Being the Engineer needs to be intrinsically interesting, and not just damage control.  Or, if that ends up being too difficult, then the Engineer needs to be able to easily switch between the boring damage control mode and the more fun gun or space grappling one, maybe?  Second, I think players need to be able to use as many of the things on their character sheet as is practicable. 

Fiendish Details are CR 9.  Roll for initiative.

When it comes to ships, everyone can have some competency due to how I run skills (proficiencies in SS terminology).  Most ship based tasks will be based on the equivalent of a skill which anyone could take, and advanced abilities part of class features or perks (aka feats) if they wish to specialize further.  Now, one of my stated goals that I hope I am realizing is that you won't need to hyperspecialize in a skill as there are diminishing returns the higher and higher you get.  Actually I should go into the proficiency thing.

So there are Combat Proficiencies, and non-combat Proficiencies, and both have diminishing returns.  Having proficiency both gives you a bonus on whatever the proficiency is about, and usually unlocks something.  In the case of combat proficiencies, such as getting points in "Melee", you are able to use more and more complex and unusual weapons.  So no ranks is like simple weapon proficiency, 1 rank is like having martial, 2 is having exotic, 3 is having exotic+, 4 is... etc.  Weapons have a proficiency pre-req to use them correctly.  Also, with its diminishing returns, it fills in the roll a +X weapon normally would, since Steamspace lacks +X weapons entirely.  Non-combat is the same way, where having, say, 3 ranks in Sense Motive lets you try to sense the motive of things entirely inhuman, a task which is beyond that with no ranks.

Anyway, I get to that cause all the major relevant things I can imagine for basic ship operation could be potentially obtained as proficiencies (in this case, Analysis, Craft (various), Knowledge (Technology), Perception, Piloting, and Siege Weapons) could be grabbed by anyone.  Specifically in the case of Siege Weapons (and Piloting as well sometimes), those get your Attack or Defense bonus added to them which scales with level anyway, so even if you have no ranks you might have decent Siege and Piloting ability just because you've gotten that good at trying not to die.

Right, I got sidetracked there.  So I imagine if you were in the role of Engineer it should be more than just passive damage control, you can also re-direct power to others or just use one of your other skills to grab a hold of the guns with Siege Weapons and start firing.

As for the second thing, can you explain further.  What do you mean?

My first point was pretty obvious, I think, just that the mechanics need to be non-boring.  If Scotty can give her "more power!" and that amounts to a +2 on a die roll, then nobody wants to play Scotty. 

My second, more opaque one relates back to character creation resources, I think.  So, I'm making a character, and games with ship combat tend to force me to pick between "ship stuff" and "ground stuff."  And, this creates a fundamental problem since the two are incompatible and opting to use which one is largely out of my control. 

That's the general consideration b/c then you have Wedge who is awesome in space but sort of sucks on the ground and Obi-Wan who is the reverse ...

More specifically, though, there tends to be this problem.  Suppose I create a sneaky, deceptive trick shooter type of guy.  Kind of Han Solo when he murders Greedo-inspired dude.  What tends to happen is all those neato keen abilities I have that sell my character concept drop out of the game once I get behind the wheel (err ... stick?) of a starship.  Gene Starwind is (and it's been a loooong time since I saw "Outlaw Star") still Gene Starwindy as a pilot.  But, most game systems that I've seen handle this kind of suck at doing that.  If I had to guess it's b/c they tend to start with the ground rules and build those out and then bolt the vehicle rules on afterward.

You can see how these two points are related.  One way to solve the Wedge/Obi-Wan concern is to make as much of Wedge's sheet work on the ground as possible, so it's just a few niche commitments he's made here and there, and vice-versa with Obi-Wan. 

I see.

Perhaps I should ditch Siege as a combat proficiency type and instead let melee, projectile, and thrown work on it as normal.  Piloting can remain since that is distinct enough to be its own thing, and most of your defense originally comes from what kind of ship you have anyway.  Since it is expected PCs will possess at least one of these things ranked up (if not multiple) then they should be competent enough in a ship.

Thanks.  I'll see what I can do for point #1 as well.


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