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[pdq#] Mmmm, SpOp, mmm mmm mmm mmm SpOp... - I Have Powers
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[pdq#] Mmmm, SpOp, mmm mmm mmm mmm SpOp...
After some discussion in the comments on the previous post on Space Opera Dogfighting, and some discussion on the S7S Yahoogroup, I am in the middle of rethinkery on SpOp Dogfighting.

Your comments desired; genre/media analysis and game design behind the cut...

Space Opera Space Combat

This post is mostly to help me go back to square one on rethinking SpOp combat. It's me thinking out loud, which I choose to do on this LJ rather than junk up the S7S yahoogroup any further.

From my reading and especially viewing (since PDQ# is a cinematic game), space combat in the Space Opera breaks down into common categories across three scales.

The three scales are: Fighter, Corvette, and Capital Ship.

The obvious common categories are:
1. Fighter vs. Fighter: *-wings vs. TIEs (SW), Starfuries vs. Raiders/*-Fighters (B5), Vipers vs. Cylon Raiders (BG). (Capital Ships are mostly background.)

2. Capital Ship vs. Capital Ship: Constellation/Galaxy Class vs. other Ships of the Line (ST), Ships of the Line vs. Shadow Battlecrabs (B5), Battlestar vs. Basestar (BG). (Fighters are mostly background.)

3. Fighters vs. Capital Ship: The snarl around the second Death Star in RotJ (SW), Vipers vs. Basestar and Raiders vs. Battlestar (BG), several examples (B5).

The obvious but more uncommon categories:
A. Corvette vs. Fighters: Millenium Falcon vs. TIEs (SW), possibly War Rocket Ajax vs. Hawkmen (FG).

B. Corvette vs. Capital Ship: Possibly the Defiant from DS9 (BG), White Stars vs. Battlecrabs (B5).

C. Corvette vs. Corvette: I'm lacking an example here. Possibly something from B5?

D. Major Battle (All Scales at Once): B5 is the exemplar here, I think.

I think that surrounds most of the popular match-ups. In general, I think it's safe to say that in the majority of SpOp combat, ships stay within their scale -- it's either Fighter vs. Fighter (FvF; SW model) or Capital Ship vs. Capital Ship (CSvCS; ST model). Some thought, however, will have to be paid to the FvCS option -- but that's down the road. (Ideas below on how to mechanize these two basic interactions under PDQ#.)

Outstanding Questions to Ponder

Again, your thoughts are welcome in the comments -- I'm especially looking for illustrations of resolutions for the below questions in SF&F media, if you can think of any.

* Combat between different scales (especially FvCS).

* Combat involving all 3 scales at once.

* How to integrate Corvettes? (How do they work in interacting with the higher and lower scales? Are they more big Fighters, small Capital Ships, or something else? This question is especially problematic, since Corvettes are mostly likely to be the right size for a bunch of PCs to work together in.)

* Examples of CVvCV combat in the source genre? (All I'm coming up with is White Star vs. Drakh ships from B5.)

PDQ# SpOp Space Combat Rules Thots

Determining the "basic" scale (F, CV, CS) for a PDQ# SpOp game should absolutely be part of Setting the Dials. Once that's done, many of the other tributary concerns should be easy to resolve, since the majority of space combat will happen in that basic scale.

I think that common cases #1 and #2, from above, are pretty clear-cut under PDQ# -- #1 is a slightly modified Duel [1] and #2 is a slightly reskinned-to-fit-the-genre version of Vehicle Combat from S7S. (#3 will require thought on combat across scales before anything can be done on that; once #3 is figured out, the CV question can be broached.)

[1] In the discussions thus far on SpOp Dogfighting, I have been reminded of the importance of position/advantage (p/a). So, I went back and looked at GURPS Lensmen for its Space Opera Combat System (SOCS) simply for inspiration -- because even it (light by GURPS standards) is way too complicated for the abstraction of PDQ#. However, this review did bear fruit.

The slight modification of the Duel rules for Dogfighting is this: before every Turn, the opposing Pilots have a Flashy Challenge, which represents gaining p/a over their foe. Per the FC rules, the loser takes a Failure Rank and the winner gains a Style Die -- but here's the modification: the winner also gains initiative for the Turn. Duels play out as usual (including the Volte-Face).

I think that this helps give the flavor of the value of p/a without making the benefits of winning or the penalties for losing it overwhelming, or making the system overly complex.

Here are two further ideas to beef up the benefits of p/a, but they might be too crippling, and do not look like they can be used together:

* No Volte-Face: The defender does not get any chance to attack during the Turn. This means that a defender will essentially always be All-Out Defending (3d), and has a good chance at evading damage... but even given that, the Failure Ranks accrued from the FCs for p/a at the top of each Turn will grind down on both fighters.

* Limited Combat Options: After position/advantage is determined, attackers can only All-Out Attack or Strongly Attack; defenders can only Strongly Defend or All-Out Defend.

Thoughts, questions, comments, examples?

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8 comments or Leave a comment
rickj From: rickj Date: June 12th, 2009 03:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Corvettes, at least from the examples you give, seem to be either small but powerful capital ships (the Defiant and White Stars) or fighters that happen to have room for some cargo and extra crew (the Falcon). The Falcon, just from the perspective of the stuff it does in combat, is much like a fighter. (It flies inside trenches and Death Stars. It can go into Asteroid fields, etc.) But the White Stars and Defiant are considered the equals of much larger vessels.

So depending on the vessel, I'd split the difference and make some powerful fighters and some weaker corvettes.
torresroman From: torresroman Date: June 12th, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it's safe to say that in the majority of SpOp combat, ships stay within their scale -- it's either Fighter vs. Fighter (FvF; SW model) or Capital Ship vs. Capital Ship (CSvCS; ST model).


In a Capital Ship vs. Capital Ship battle (CSvCS) battle, assume both Capital Ships have swarms of fighters to deploy (Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, B5).

1. In this case, would "swarm of fighters" be simply a forte, with its Mod added to one capital ship's attack against another? Or does that Mod not come into play until one squad of fighters wipes out the other, since the fighters are likely engaged in dogfighting and not direct attacks on the other capital ship?

(I'm all for adding the Fighter Squadron Forte Mods in the CSvCS battles. The difference between the Mods abstractly demonstrates one CS's fighter squadron is superior in some respect--numbers, technology, etc. If these Mods come into play in a CSvCS battle, it could also represent some of those fighters are getting through the dogfight to hit the other CS.)

2. If the Fighter Squadron Forte of one of the Capital Ships (CS1) takes a hit, reducing the Mod, does the fighter squadron of the opposing Capital Ship (CS2) get some relief/bonus in the dogfighting on their scale?

Perhaps the difference between the Fighter Squadron Fortes could be added to the dice roll totals for the dogfighters on the winning side? Too much to keep track of?

3. What if the Fighter Squad Forte for CS1 is zeroed out?

I figure that the the fighters for CS2 now get to attack CS1, and then we're back to the scale issue and setting dials, unless you treat a squad of fighters like a capital ship.


Combat Between Scales

1. Perhaps each jump in scale acts, abstractly, like armor?

This would affect how many scales you want. Each jump gets a corresponding +X to defense/attack? In this case, the CV scale is simply an intermediate stage.

2. In FvCS: Swarms of dogfighters are treated like a capital ship for purposes of Vehicular Duels?

Combats with all 3 scales at once.

All I'm thinking of is the big battles in B5. You could stat out an entire fleet as a unit for the purposes of vehicular duel vs. vehicular duel. Or, in this case, Fleet vs. Fleet (FLvFL) duel.

FvCS Scale

Do individual fighters really affect a CS very much, unless there's an obvious weakness to aim for and exploit? Perhaps reconsidering a fighter squadron as a single "ship" for purposes of scale would alleviate this particular scale problem? In that case, if there is an exploitable weakness, then the individual fighter pilot is facing a Challenge of some sort.


I'd allow Volte-Face for space combat, if only because the ability of ships in space to simply flip and attack (as portrayed in B5) is simply too cool not to use.

However, if you want the dogfighting rules to be applicable to aerial combat as well, then I'd go with No Volte-Face, forcing the fighter to get a better position, either head-on, behind, from above, before the pilot is able to attack.
timgray From: timgray Date: June 12th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
We knew you couldn't stop! ;)
reverancepavane From: reverancepavane Date: June 12th, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

(1) Cross-scale stuff really should make use of dedicated weapons (eg: missiles/torpedoes for fighter vs capital ship; point-defence for capital ship vs fighter). In the case of fighter-scale this probably means a limited number of attacks, but then again, capital ships shouldn't be able to maneuver against fighters (positional advantage shouldn't apply). [Actually if you define a "torpedo" as a dedicated anti-capital ship weapons (slow but powerful) whilst a "missile" is an anti-fighter (overkill) and anti-corvette weapon... This assumes capital ships are relatively well-armoured and slow (with a low bass rumble as they pass you by in space... <grin>.]

(2) I think any consideration of dogfighting really has to be able to cope with the concept of the tail-gunner, so forcing total defence or attack would obliviate this.

(3) Corvette vs Corvette: Defiant vs Jem'hadar [?] in Deep Space 9 [Although one could argue that these are actually the "fighters" of the Star Trek universe and the Enterprise (etc) is effectively a corvette (since it is run by a small crew from the bridge – albiet with a large supporting cast), as oppposed to the more space-operatic large dispersed crew.]

(Deleted comment)
uhrwerkmensch From: uhrwerkmensch Date: June 14th, 2009 07:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know if you've already considered this, but here's how I'd handle cross-size combat:

For combat at mismatched scales, I'd ditch the volte-face mechanic entirely and make it a simple opposed test from whichever perspective the PCs ships are playing at, essentially turning the (fighter squadron, capship guns) into difficult terrain, modified by any applicable fortes.

Typically, you're not going to see much combat out-of-scale, and when you do, it's to serve a special narrative purpose - the fighter wing harrying the enemy destroyer while the heroes' fleet moves into position, Buzz Starkiller's tricked-out fighter ducking and weaving under the tower guns as he tries to line up his strafing run on the Imperial starbase, etc.

This also keeps with the genre: typically, enemy fighters go down in just a couple of hits from capship guns, with the exception of "hero" ships.
dspitzle From: dspitzle Date: June 15th, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
How much of your problem is that you're trying to get away with only three sizes? For context, I'll point everybody to the invaluable Spaceship Size Comparison Chart at http://www.merzo.net/. If you check out the 10x and -10x tabs, you'll see that an X-Wing is around 10m long, Serenity and the Millenium Falcon are in the 30-60m range, typical Star Fleet ships run 300-600m, Star Destroyers run 2-8km long, and the Death Stars run over 100km. The idea that these are covered by just 3 size categories seems tricky to me. So, if you expand the list to Fighters, Corvettes, Small Capital Ships, Large Capital Ships, Dreadnoughts and That's No Moon, it may be a bit easier to think this through.

It seems to me that battles between ships at the same level can use the dogfighting rules above, and perhaps one level apart as well with the larger ship usually having a disadvantage in mobility to match its probable advantages in arms and armor (this actually does a good job of modeling pirate fighters against lightly armed transports, too).

At two levels apart the little ships are essentially buzzing around the large ship, so relative positioning really doesn't matter much, and the key is how the rules handle swarm effects since an individual small ship isn't likely to be much of a threat.

If you get to three or more levels apart you really need some sort of plot device (like the Death Star plans) which converts the mission from a ship-to-ship battle into a location-based mission because there's almost no chance of the small ships having any effect on the large ships, even en masse.

So, for the two-level differences it seems to me you can either treat groups of small ships as a single ship one size larger (so a group of Fighters can dogfight with a Small Capital Ship), or you can figure out rules for swarming as opposed to dogfighting. That might be more fun, but obviously it's more complicated. Either way, the question arises as to what the players' experiences are if they are part of the composite group/swarm. If the PCs are just using their stats to add to the roll for the composite, it's not going to be very interesting. Ideally you probably want to work out something where the success or failure of actions taken by the PCs can impact the success or failure of the composite.
chadu From: chadu Date: June 15th, 2009 11:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Worthy of thought.
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