log in or register to remove this ad

 

Designing Space Battle in RPG

Laurefindel

Adventurer
I'm making a sci fi (space opera) RPG, because making RPGs is fun.

It has been a long journey, but my last roadblock and untested gameplay is about space battles. I'm hoping that exchanging on the subject it here will help me focus my thoughts and receive new ideas/criticism.

Goal: The intent is to engage all players in a space battle just as they are in ground combat, even if they are all aboard the same ship. Here's what I got so far...

The ship is the party. If there are 4 players in the party, then the ship is a party of 4. So far so good. The analogy with a D&D party doesn't map-out exactly like a sci-fi game (in a non-d20 system to booth), but the reference is known well enough for me to convey my thoughts.

In a D&D party, players usually play different classes. There are doubles in some games but even then, characters usually fill different roles. Characters on board a spaceship will play different roles, each with their own "character class". We will call these classes "departments".

Thus characters will run different departments. Maybe it's a small ship and they all are 1-person departments, or it's a massive capital ship and the players conduct an entire crew in each department. Regardless; players are in charge.

Departments are interchangeable; some PC will perform better in some department, but all could technically fill any department. The department's class features - so to speak - come with the position rather than the PC. These departments are (names subject to change)...

Helm. The helm is run by the pilot and/or captain. It doesn't really matter who physically pilots the ship; the captain gives the commands and manoeuvres. The helm is is the "fighter" of the party; several attacks, high AC, high hp (figuratively speaking). The helm is responsible for moving the ship on the battlemat.

Coms. Communications (or sensors station) is run by the first officer/communication officer. Coms is the "thief" of the party; sneaky, skillful, provides assists, situationally backstab-y.

Tacticals. Tacticals is run by the tactical officer, i guess? On a small ship it could be a fancy name for "gunner". Tacticals is the "mage" of the party; limited big flashy attacks, at-will cantrips, shielding spells, a few utility tricks, enemy debuffs.

Engineering. Run by the chief engineer, engineering is the "cleric" of the party; provides "healing", ally buffs, utility stuff.

I thought of a few more in case of 5+ players, but these are the main ones.

Important design concept: In a D&D party, everyone can attack (some do it better) or do their class-y thing instead (which usually has some kind of daily limit). In a D&D party, everyone can target different enemies, and all can be individually targetted by enemies. In a D&D party, each character have their own hp. The party is only dead when all its members are dead; the party can keep on fighting as long as one of them is still up. And so it should be with the ship.

All departments can attack (some can do it better). All departments can do their department-y thing instead (some resources are limited). Each department can be hit and lose hp individually. The ship can be crippled but is only destroyed if all departments are breached.

At the moment, I'm thinking that each ship should have a number of actions equal to players on board. If 4 characters are on a ship, that ship should have 4 actions (1 per player), and 4 departments to destroy to sink the ship. Should all character eventually gain their own ship, I want to avoid having 4 player characters and 12 more virtual characters.

This means there need to be some kind of multiplying factor for enemies; a 1 cruiser vs 1 cruiser battle should yield about the same odds regardless whether there are 1, 2, 3 or 4 players on board. If the PC split on two ships, a 2 vs 1 advantage should resonate somehow, even if the total number of players (in other words, #attacks, hp daily resources etc) is the same. That's what I'm working on atm.

Thoughts, advice, experience with other games?
 

log in or register to remove this ad


Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
In WOIN, a ship has a number of actions equal to its class or the number of PCs, whichever is higher.

Any PC can perform any action. Just because you're at the helm doesn't mean you can't run over and use the science station or fire a weapon. It's important that PCs aren't locked into roles during the combat. Don't have one player doing the movement, another firing the weapons, etc. let anybody do anything each round, just like in ground combat.

Equally important, they should be also doing things on the ship. Technical challenges; saboteurs; medical emergencies; repelling boarding actions.
 

Laurefindel

Adventurer
In WOIN, a ship has a number of actions equal to its class or the number of PCs, whichever is higher.

Any PC can perform any action. Just because you're at the helm doesn't mean you can't run over and use the science station or fire a weapon. It's important that PCs aren't locked into roles during the combat. Don't have one player doing the movement, another firing the weapons, etc. let anybody do anything each round, just like in ground combat.

Equally important, they should be also doing things on the ship. Technical challenges; saboteurs; medical emergencies; repelling boarding actions.
Notes taken.

I've read most resources and reference documents on the WOIN site. Remarkably well-thought and thorough game. Almost intimidatingly so, if I have a single criticism to make, but very inspirational.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Thoughts, advice, experience with other games?
I look at spacecraft as NPC's mostly. One thing to think about is what style of space combat one wants, from hard sf out to space fantasy, that will give flavor. Usually some of the first things I look at are spacecraft rules, that will tell me a lot about the game.

Reading your overview, it sounds like you are doing good.
 

Derren

Hero
It won't work out the way you intend.

Starfinder uses a similar system but while two roles, pilot (Helm in your case) and Gunner (Tactical) get to decide important actions each round, all other rounds are just rolling the same check over and over again or do nothing as what they do is situational and the situation did not come up.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
It won't work out the way you intend.

Starfinder uses a similar system but while two roles, pilot (Helm in your case) and Gunner (Tactical) get to decide important actions each round, all other rounds are just rolling the same check over and over again or do nothing as what they do is situational and the situation did not come up.
As I mentioned above, the key is to disassociate set roles. Anybody can do anything. Fire a torpedo, scan a ship, repel a boarder, fix a blown warp core, launch a shuttle, enhance the proton emitter to reverse the polarity of the enemy’s shields, hack their computer, the list goes on.

Just don’t put people in boxes and tell them they have one action they can do. Tell them they can each do anything they want.
 

atanakar

Hero
Coriolis the Third Horizon has a good system that involves all the players. The ships stations are not linked to a class or a character. If the crew has unconscious or dead characters during battle the rest of the team picks up the slack by operating more stations (pop-up screens). A crew of only one or two can operate a ship. We used it and it works well.
 

As I mentioned above, the key is to disassociate set roles. Anybody can do anything. Fire a torpedo, scan a ship, repel a boarder, fix a blown warp core, launch a shuttle, enhance the proton emitter to reverse the polarity of the enemy’s shields, hack their computer, the list goes on.

Just don’t put people in boxes and tell them they have one action they can do. Tell them they can each do anything they want.
As much as I think this has merit, completely disassociating roles goes against some of the OPs goals. As originally stated, anyone should be allowed to attack/repair/send communications, but some should be better at it than others. I respect this desire as a nod to both realism, and helping players connect to their characters by feeling like they're unique and/or special.

To this goal, I would throw these basic ideas out there (apologies in advance if any of these already exist in WOIN, I don't own a copy):

- Incomplete disassociation: Everyone can do a majority of the jobs, but not all of them. Maybe everyone picks one role they're not allowed to do, or you get a penalty when doing 2/5 roles.

- Special bonuses: Opposite of the above. Everyone can man Weapons, but only one or two players can access the Super Laser.

- Required cooperation: Variant on the above. Everyone can do any role, but can only do some with assistance. E.G. Player 1 can do Comms or Weapons any time, but can only take the Helm if Player 2 or Player 3 is in Engineering. Player 2 can do Engineering or Helm at any time, but can only do Comms if Player 3 or 4 is at the Helm. Could be complicated, but could also really encourage inter-party communication.

- Proximity rules: Everyone can do any job, but it will take time for them to switch. Helm control needs one round to switch to Comms, but two to switch to Weapons or three to switch to Engineering, etc. Inspired by Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I want to cover a different aspect than others are - character creation.

Let me give you a failed example. Mechwarrior, back in the 80s or early 90s, was an RPG about the pilots of big stompy robots. But it was the same bucket or resources being used to be good in a mech and be useful outside of one. We ended up with two sorta-well rounded characters who could be of some use on the battlefield or off. And three idiot savants who were incapable of tying their own shoelaces but were pretty hot at piloting mechs.

So, either give different buckets of resources for character creation and advancement for this other mode of play, or make it overlap with the same aspects that they would use outside of a ship, in a way similar to D&D where the class structure enforces that all characters are good in combat.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
As much as I think this has merit, completely disassociating roles goes against some of the OPs goals. As originally stated, anyone should be allowed to attack/repair/send communications, but some should be better at it than others. I respect this desire as a nod to both realism, and helping players connect to their characters by feeling like they're unique and/or special.
That’s just about character statistics. Just like on ground. The point is not restricting players to roles. Sure, some will be better at some.
- Proximity rules: Everyone can do any job, but it will take time for them to switch. Helm control needs one round to switch to Comms, but two to switch to Weapons or three to switch to Engineering, etc. Inspired by Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime.
Missing turns is anti-fun. The idea was to make starship combat more fun, not as boring as possible! Your solution to the problem of starship combat being not much fun is to make people sit out of the game for three rounds? :D
 

Tonguez

Hero
As much as I think this has merit, completely disassociating roles goes against some of the OPs goals. As originally stated, anyone should be allowed to attack/repair/send communications, but some should be better at it than others. I respect this desire as a nod to both realism, and helping players connect to their characters by feeling like they're unique and/or special.

To this goal, I would throw these basic ideas out there (apologies in advance if any of these already exist in WOIN, I don't own a copy):

- Incomplete disassociation: Everyone can do a majority of the jobs, but not all of them. Maybe everyone picks one role they're not allowed to do, or you get a penalty when doing 2/5 roles.

- Special bonuses: Opposite of the above. Everyone can man Weapons, but only one or two players can access the Super Laser.

- Required cooperation: Variant on the above. Everyone can do any role, but can only do some with assistance. E.G. Player 1 can do Comms or Weapons any time, but can only take the Helm if Player 2 or Player 3 is in Engineering. Player 2 can do Engineering or Helm at any time, but can only do Comms if Player 3 or 4 is at the Helm. Could be complicated, but could also really encourage inter-party communication.

- Proximity rules: Everyone can do any job, but it will take time for them to switch. Helm control needs one round to switch to Comms, but two to switch to Weapons or three to switch to Engineering, etc. Inspired by Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime.
or you could just use the advantage mechanic or skills - so an Engineer gets advantage on engineering but can still do Gunnery or Helm functions if they want to.

Anyway in my Naval Rules we divide a ship into Helm (Manouveres), Propulsion (Speed), Deck (Tactical) and Hull (Stability). For Ship Turns PCs assign themselves to sections and all four sections make similtaneous checks as they are “working together”. Each section also has its own AC so that enemies can target them sperately resulting in different ‘status effects’ that PCS then have to resolve On their turn.
 

Plane Sailing

Astral Admin - Mwahahaha!
FWIW I wanted to do something similar to make space combat interesting in my RPG (Starguild: Space Opera Noir) and I went for distinct bridge positions (pilot, navigator, engineer, gunner, captain) and each of those bridge positions had a number of things they could do each combat round. The captain would normally have some combination of shuffling around the computer program bonuses and using leadership skills to improve other bridge crew performance. Only one person could be piloting the ship at one time, but anyone could jump into the pilots position if needed. This is the quick reference chart:
6FF8ED4C-5DD0-4E8C-9B6B-F41083ECEB67.jpeg
 

Laurefindel

Adventurer
I'm digesting all your comments; not ignoring anyone.

On thing is clearer than ever; characters need a minimum of mobility between their stations (or their stations must be versatile).

Another thing that was clear from the beginning and that I may not have addressed properly: "Captaining" is not a skill, or if it were, a "captaining check" is not a fun roll. Departments (which I had called battlesations, now that I looked back on my notes) must have enough options to... give options. A character doesn't need a high Strategy skill rank to do a good job at the helm, but a character with a high Strategy skill may be better at using some of the helms options than others.

And should everything fails, every character should be able to use their action to make an attack and shoot enemy ships to space dust...
 

Eltab

Hero
And should everything fails, every character should be able to use their action to make an attack and shoot enemy ships to space dust...
In one of Larry Niven's "Known Space" stories, a top-of-the-line warship is destroyed by an unarmed colony vessel using the comm laser
For my highly-Niven-copied SF setting, I have thought about doing the same by rotating the colony ship (for artificial gravity) and turning on a Bussard ramjet's magnetic fuel scoop.

Star Fleet Battles is much more complex than you want, but there are rules for Officers to influence the ship's performance in various ways. You might find something to inspire you.
 

nomotog

Explorer
Design the system around small ships. Most players want the millennium falcon experience, so rather than trying to make your system scale from small to just have all your ships be small.
 

atanakar

Hero
Picard Star Trek. The captain (actor Santiago Cabrera) runs the entire ship from his chair.

 
Last edited:

DMMike

Game Masticator
I'm making a sci fi (space opera) RPG, because making RPGs is fun.

The analogy with a D&D party doesn't map-out exactly like a sci-fi game (in a non-d20 system to booth)...

In a D&D party, players usually play different classes...

Important design concept: In a D&D party, everyone can attack (some do it better) or do their class-y thing...
Sounds like you just want to play D&D. If you're designing a game, not a module, it might help to throw out some assumptions. Like "D&D would do it this way."
 

That’s just about character statistics. Just like on ground. The point is not restricting players to roles. Sure, some will be better at some.
Playing a statistic is anti-fun. You don't get emotionally invested in a character because he's got a +2 to a roll, you get excited about a character that is unique and can do unique things. A wizard is restricted from wearing armor and a fighter is restricted from casting spells; they're not just a little bit better at magic or fighting.

Missing turns is anti-fun. The idea was to make starship combat more fun, not as boring as possible! Your solution to the problem of starship combat being not much fun is to make people sit out of the game for three rounds? :D
Strategy is fun. Having the group make a tactical decision about whether the Gunner gives up one turn of shooting to fix the technobabble in Engineering or the Helmsman gives up two turns of flying to do the same job is fun. In either case, both players are still contributing to the game.

My 3.5e Assassin character would regularly spend 3 rounds doing nothing but observing a target before making a Death Attack. He was still a fun character. Just because you're not rolling dice doesn't mean you're sitting out. If a player can't handle a round where he's not the center of attention without saying it's "as boring as possible", I would recommend them to play computer games instead of TTRPGs.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Playing a statistic is anti-fun. You don't get emotionally invested in a character because he's got a +2 to a roll, you get excited about a character that is unique and can do unique things. A wizard is restricted from wearing armor and a fighter is restricted from casting spells; they're not just a little bit better at magic or fighting.
That is really not what I said.
 

Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top