Piloting/Driving Combat in RPGs is No Fun!

This question can probably be extended to any sub-system that isn't individual combat.

Social interaction, overland journeys, network hacking, machine repair, crafting....none of these minigames have ever, in my experience, been remotely as fun as whacking things with swords.

I wonder why.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Of course it should. It is an aspect of genre choice, and much as folks want it to be otherwise, rules enforce genre. Using an extreme case to demonstrate the point - D&D 5e tells me to spend exactly zero time on starship combat... having no starships in the game because they aren't a significant element in Ye Basic Fantasie Genre.
Again, this seems to be a bit of a tangent. Yes, D&D 5e gives you zero answers for "starship combat" because there are no starships in the game, and that's fine. But that's focusing on genre trappings and not the core problem. I'd be willing to bet that 5e gives you few or zero answers for naval combat, running an exciting chariot race, running an exciting chase scene where the PC's on a wagon try to evade pursuers on horseback, or engaging in an aerial duel between fliers using pegasi, flying carpets, dragons, and broomsticks.

A skilled DM could probably extrapolate out from the rules how to make some of those situations exciting - particularly the ones that involve each player controlling his own figure and using skills that transfer over directly from tactical combat. But I'd be willing to bet that 99% of 5e DMs would discover they had no in system answers at all to the problem most congruent with starship combat - ship to ship naval combat - particularly if they wanted to make it reoccurring and fun for all participants.

And yet you can't tell me that ship to ship naval combat of some sort isn't a part of Ye Basic Fantasie Genre. Heck, even something as basic as the Expert rule book hinted at it's presence by describing warships as being present in the setting.
 

Celebrim

Legend
This question can probably be extended to any sub-system that isn't individual combat.

Social interaction, overland journeys, network hacking, machine repair, crafting....none of these minigames have ever, in my experience, been remotely as fun as whacking things with swords.

I wonder why.
Because none of them involve all participants working together to solve the problem by each making key decisions regularly.

Social interaction differs from combat in that if you aren't skilled at it, then you are really in the way and actively harming success if you engage in it. In combat, less skilled members of the party can always adopt support positions in a way that seems reasonable to the fiction. It's not at all clear what that "support position" looks like in the vast majority of social interactions. Add to this the problem that class based systems go out of there way to ensure some degree of competence in the combat sphere, but don't assume that every class needs some degree of social competence (and point buy systems basically never assume that and assume that they are being superior in doing so).

Overland journeys are the same thing. Maybe everyone is rolling every day to pass Navigation, Pathfinding, Survival, Portage and Perception tests, and thus contributing to the success of the group. But it's not clear that anyone making these rolls and having these roles is making any decisions. The result is potentially grindy, and the real action usually results from the DM taking one of these failures and turning it into some more conventional scenario as a complication - a combat, a 'trap' (or hazard), that resulted from the failure. Otherwise, it's just book keeping, which gets tiresome after a while. Complicating that further is again, almost no system insists on parity in the travel/exploration sphere. And as a special case, D&D tends to make avoiding overland travel incurred costs very 'cheap' in terms of outlay of resources (via things like 'Create Food & Water' or 'Teleport').

Network hacking, again the same thing. Machine repair, crafting, and so forth again the same thing.

A lot of people tend to believe that the problem is simply that the system provides for combat but not for other sorts of challenges, but I think that is a myth. I think that the problem is that realistic simulation of combat produces something with a lot of decision points where it is easy to imagine how everyone is participating and helping because there is a strong correspondence between reality (in battle, numbers are important) and the fictional simulation. But if you do this with trying to persuade someone, it's not at all clear where the decision points are or how, if there are decisions points, it's not just better to have one player/character making those decisions (the one that is most skilled).
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
Have I ever played an RPG where piloting/driving vehicles in combat was fun?
Have you ever played a pilot-character?

Part of the problem is that not every character is useful when it comes to vehicle combat.

I can't believe I'm going to say this, but Palladium's Robotech might be the only game I've had a lot of fun with so far as vehicles go. But it's kind of a cheat because the rules for piloting a Veritech were pretty much the same rules you'd use for a PC outside their vehicle.
Not every character is useful at picking locks, either. It's bad enough that some games -require- all characters to have personal combat skills, but are you suggesting that all characters should have vehicle combat skills as well?

Regarding Robotech, I wouldn't call using general rules a "cheat." I'd call it elegant design 🤓
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Have you ever played a pilot-character?


Not every character is useful at picking locks, either. It's bad enough that some games -require- all characters to have personal combat skills, but are you suggesting that all characters should have vehicle combat skills as well?

Regarding Robotech, I wouldn't call using general rules a "cheat." I'd call it elegant design 🤓
I think this is a part of "how much wall time does this take". Combat takes a long time, so they want everyone contributing. Picking a lock does not. Many exploration/discovery tasks do not take a lot of time, and the mechanics are set up that usually you only need one expert for those, though more can be of some usefulness.

If vehicle combat is expected to also regularly take up a large amount of wall time, then yes, for that setting I would say all characters should have vehicle combat skills. If vehicle combat is rare or quick, then no. Again, the mechanics need to support the feel you are shooting for.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Not every character is useful at picking locks, either. It's bad enough that some games -require- all characters to have personal combat skills, but are you suggesting that all characters should have vehicle combat skills as well?

Regarding Robotech, I wouldn't call using general rules a "cheat." I'd call it elegant design 🤓
Someone actually said the words Palladium's Robotech and elegant design in the same post?!? Will wonders never cease.

But yeah, the answer for a Robotech campaign probably really is for everyone to be skilled in Veritech combat. If someone's playing a Rick character and another a Minmei, there are going to be significant portions of time in which one player can't really do anything to affect or help what's going on with the other players. That may be OK for predictably limited time frames like splitting up to do a little investigation or shopping around a town, or scouting ahead a bit in a dungeon, but given how long combats often take, it's going to kind of suck if it's a major fight between a squadron of VF1s and Zentraedi. Minmei's just going to try to bring focus to herself because she's sitting there all bored, and that's gonna distract Rick and pretty soon Roy and Ben are goners...
 
The other answer is run two scenes at once and interleave them. You see this in TV and movies all the time. You have two tense scenes going and switch back and forth at appropriate moments. So the vehicle PCs do their thing, and the non-V PCs do something else important. This obviously can't be done every time, but it can be done perhaps more often than one might think until one, you know, thinks about it. It depends on the game too - some games assume a certain amount of non-shared screen time and other don't, which means a differential amount of coloring outside the lines to make it work and meet expectations.
 

atanakar

Adventurer
In Coriolis, by Free League, all the characters participate in combat. Space Combat roles are not linked to class. This means anyone can man any position - with more or less success of course. It's more cinematic. I tried it and liked it.

1. Order Phase: All captains choose their orders secretly, and roll command.
2. Engineer Phase: The engineers distribute their ships’ Energy Points, and perform any necessary repairs.
3. Pilot Phase: The pilots maneuver to get either closer to, or farther away from, their enemy ship.
4. Sensor Phase: The sensor operators lock onto targets, break locks on their own ships, and perform data attacks.
5. Attack Phase: The gunners fire their weapon systems, including countermeasures.

Movement is not realistic. Instead it works like a chase on a map with 9 linear zones. The closer you get - to the center - the more chances you have to detect and shoot at the target.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I think this is a part of "how much wall time does this take". Combat takes a long time, so they want everyone contributing. Picking a lock does not.
I don't think that is a coincidence though. I think combat takes a long time because that is when everyone can be contributing. Likewise, picking a lock does not take a long time, because obviously there aren't a lot of interesting decisions to make and they would being made by a single character. This wouldn't be a problem in a single player cRPG, which could happily devote time to a lock picking minigame, so not surprisingly in single player cRPGs you tend to find time consuming lock picking minigames.

If vehicle combat is expected to also regularly take up a large amount of wall time, then yes, for that setting I would say all characters should have vehicle combat skills. If vehicle combat is rare or quick, then no. Again, the mechanics need to support the feel you are shooting for.
I would propose that there is a metarule of RPG design here, of the form, "If the players are going to be playing in a particular way for a large percentage of the game, then all characters need to be able to contribute to that part of the game."

But again, it's not coincidental that RPGs have tended to focus heavily on character balance in combat. I just think maybe we are coming at the wrong direction as to why and assuming that the focus on combat is just an arbitrary decision, and that it's just as easy to focus on any other sort of challenge - like lockpicking - despite the fact that it is a social game with say seven or nine participants.

Which is getting into what is in the process of becoming Celebrim's 3rd law of RPGs, the number of participants you have in a game determines the game you can play.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I don't think that is a coincidence though. I think combat takes a long time because that is when everyone can be contributing. Likewise, picking a lock does not take a long time, because obviously there aren't a lot of interesting decisions to make and they would being made by a single character. This wouldn't be a problem in a single player cRPG, which could happily devote time to a lock picking minigame, so not surprisingly in single player cRPGs you tend to find time consuming lock picking minigames.

I would propose that there is a metarule of RPG design here, of the form, "If the players are going to be playing in a particular way for a large percentage of the game, then all characters need to be able to contribute to that part of the game."

But again, it's not coincidental that RPGs have tended to focus heavily on character balance in combat. I just think maybe we are coming at the wrong direction as to why and assuming that the focus on combat is just an arbitrary decision, and that it's just as easy to focus on any other sort of challenge - like lockpicking - despite the fact that it is a social game with say seven or nine participants.

Which is getting into what is in the process of becoming Celebrim's 3rd law of RPGs, the number of participants you have in a game determines the game you can play.
I'm pretty much in agreement, so if I say anything it's just the bits where I see something slightly differently - otherwise assume I agree with what you said. Not arguing, just adding. :)

There are RPGs that don't focus on combat. Something like the Leverage game with a single "Hitter", and the majority of scenes are not combat. In those, not everyone has to be good at combat. Or something like Fate, where depending on the setting you may have no combat-focused Aspects at all, and the challenges devised by the GM are around different spotlights. D&D has evolved from wargaming and one of it's base assumptions for many years was "you will be rewarded with XP and loot for killing things" as a universal motivator. So the focus on combat means both that it needs to be a robust subsystem (taking up time), which with the metarule we both suggested means that they need to make sure everyone contributes to it.
 

MGibster

Adventurer
Have you ever played a pilot-character?
Oh, yeah. I've played Star Wars (many versions), Rifts, Robotech, Deadlands (pre and post Savaged), and Blue Planet with characters who were pilots or drivers.

Not every character is useful at picking locks, either. It's bad enough that some games -require- all characters to have personal combat skills, but are you suggesting that all characters should have vehicle combat skills as well?
Picking locks doesn't typically take a significant amount of time while the other PCs just kind of stand around. But to answer your question, maybe? I'm currently in a Star Wars campaign where we're all pilots/commandos. As a general rule though I'd probably say no.

Regarding Robotech, I wouldn't call using general rules a "cheat." I'd call it elegant design 🤓
:) I never thought I'd hear someone describe the Palladium rule set as elegant but when you're right you're right.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
Social interaction differs from combat in that if you aren't skilled at it, then you are really in the way and actively harming success if you engage in it.
I don't disagree with any of your post. However to take this in a different direction; most games are "optimized" for combat; where as you say, even someone who may not be a combat expert is given mechanical ways to help. But D&D and it's various offshoots (what I guess we might call "traditional games") really doesn't give social interactions or other types of challenges mechanical ways for non-experts to participate.

Example - your face is going to have a social encounter. Someone who isn't that good at social encounters could however be in the background finding out something embarrassing about the target; or threatening their minions/dear ones; etc. But usually there isn't mechanical weight put to that except what the GM decides to do themselves.

I think it's the games we play that are optimized for group on group combat (ie platoon scale war games) that make these other modes of play not as much fun as group on group combat.

(and yes, D&D at its core (and at its roots) is a platoon scale war game, notwithstanding all the "role-play" stuff that is added on top of it)
 

MGibster

Adventurer
Of course it should. It is an aspect of genre choice, and much as folks want it to be otherwise, rules help enforce/create genre. Using an extreme case to demonstrate the point - D&D 5e tells me to spend exactly zero time on starship combat... having no starships in the game because they aren't a significant element in Ye Basic Fantasie Genre.
I agree with this. Hence my criticism of the Alien RPG for having so much focus on piloting and ship-to-ship combat when the fiction it's based off of doesn't really feature a whole lot of that. Star Wars and a game based on 18th century pirates should have a fairly robust ship-to-ship combat system because it's a big part of the fiction that inspires the game.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Example - your face is going to have a social encounter. Someone who isn't that good at social encounters could however be in the background finding out something embarrassing about the target; or threatening their minions/dear ones; etc. But usually there isn't mechanical weight put to that except what the GM decides to do themselves.
I think that the way RPGs have been played traditionally tends to thwart that as a solution. The problem with your suggestion on its face is that the process of finding out the skeletons in the closet by the snooping expert, or the process of threatening minions and dear ones, each themselves plays out as a solo activity. So while it might be possible for each of those lines of play to be interesting, they involve taking long turns while the rest of the party is not interacting. They may come together at a point at some point, and influence future events, but they don't resolve the problem that the activity you describe doesn't generate joint activity in the way combat does.

There is a potential resolution, but it carries it's own problems, and that's to do something like 'Blades in the Dark' does of treating time non-linearly and allowing non-simultaneous events to be resolved together through flashback to earlier scenes. But that non-linearity at least allows you to have the feeling of joint activity, so that as the face does their thing, you can narrate how you helped through retroactive activity.

I think it's the games we play that are optimized for group on group combat (ie platoon scale war games) that make these other modes of play not as much fun as group on group combat.
And I think it's that it's actually very hard to play out other sorts of challenges in a natural way and have the characteristics of play that make group combat so interesting. Or to put it another way, it's relatively easy to come up with interesting mechanics for platoon scale war games that creates a transcript of play through a natural linear narrative experience in which everyone participates. It's not at all easy to do so for everything else.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
I think that the way RPGs have been played traditionally tends to thwart that as a solution. The problem with your suggestion on its face is that the process of finding out the skeletons in the closet by the snooping expert, or the process of threatening minions and dear ones, each themselves plays out as a solo activity. So while it might be possible for each of those lines of play to be interesting, they involve taking long turns while the rest of the party is not interacting. They may come together at a point at some point, and influence future events, but they don't resolve the problem that the activity you describe doesn't generate joint activity in the way combat does.

There is a potential resolution, but it carries it's own problems, and that's to do something like 'Blades in the Dark' does of treating time non-linearly and allowing non-simultaneous events to be resolved together through flashback to earlier scenes. But that non-linearity at least allows you to have the feeling of joint activity, so that as the face does their thing, you can narrate how you helped through retroactive activity.



And I think it's that it's actually very hard to play out other sorts of challenges in a natural way and have the characteristics of play that make group combat so interesting. Or to put it another way, it's relatively easy to come up with interesting mechanics for platoon scale war games that creates a transcript of play through a natural linear narrative experience in which everyone participates. It's not at all easy to do so for everything else.
I guess? I don't think I'm going to go down with the ship defending this; but I will say that having a sequence of scenes with each person doing their thing is definitely within the purview of a game. It's just that right now D&D doesn't really support that sort of narrative framing. D&D 5e is more about bunch of folks in the same room with monsters, bashing each other. 4e had much more mechanical support using the Skill Challenge for that type of montage scene.
 
To be fair, the idea that a montage scene is even a possibility owes more to other games than it does anything to the actual D&D rules, although I agree with your point.

Generally though, the only pillar of play that the D&D rules support full party inclusiveness is combat. When it comes to exploration and social interaction it becomes much more spotlightly and single or maybe dual character focused. That can be dealt with, but you need the right party with the right skill mix, the right DM, and the right mix of encounters, not to mention the right general table expectations.

Theres a reason you see so many threads about how to buff the 2nd and 3rd pillars in 5e play. Never mind the cart chase scene with crossbows firing, fireballs cooking, and the artificer in the back telling the fighter he's giving the back axle everything he's got.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
I use Classic Traveller Book 2 Starships combat; generally every player has something to do, so much so that they have NPC's to flesh out the crew. The best thing is that it is fast, usually around five turns and the winner or loser is decided. Pilot can be about the most boring because in a dead run chase, there is not much going on. Usually I have them rolling to keep anticipating the enemy's maneuvers. On the gripping hand, damage to a spacecraft is hellishly expensive: "Oh, hull hit? 100% damage? That is milled out of a single block of T6 aluminum, like the nodes on the ISS." Tens of millions or more reasons why people run before fighting, or dump cargo.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I guess? I don't think I'm going to go down with the ship defending this; but I will say that having a sequence of scenes with each person doing their thing is definitely within the purview of a game.
I agree. But a sequence of scenes with each person doing their thing is definitely not each player working together at the same time.

It's just that right now D&D doesn't really support that sort of narrative framing.
Wait? Why not? I mean I'd be really surprised if D&D actually told the GMs how to narratively frame scenes. How a DM is narratively framing scenes or how a story is constructed is not something D&D has traditionally cared about at all. When you say that D&D is "more about a bunch of folks in the same room with monsters, bashing each other", you are appealing to a stereotype of play. But D&D neither supports nor fails to support splitting the party and everyone doing their own thing. That's a process of play issue that has to do with how a particular table plays the game, and it's not at all an unlikely process of play to hit upon.

What I think is a highly unlikely process of play to hit upon if you only know D&D style fortune in the middle with purist for process leanings is something like Blades in the Dark with its explicitly non-linear story telling and it's explicitly blessing players right to make calls and propositions against things in the past rather than the present.

4e had much more mechanical support using the Skill Challenge for that type of montage scene.
I don't think you need mechanical support for a montage scene. It's just a process of play. Absolutely I can think of examples of doing it in D&D 30 years ago and it's not a huge step up from, "The thief will move silently down the corridor to scout while we wait here."
 

nomotog

Explorer
I have an idea for ship combat that I just keep turning over and over in my head trying to think of how to avoid the big issues with it. The Core idea is to rip off FTL/Battlestations. You do a full map of the ship and have players move around it. Weapons would work by targeting a room on the target ship with a focus on weapons that create zone hazards (Fire, gas, timed explosives.) and that gets you at least partway. Most player powers stay usable, but then you realize some systems are more exciting than others.

Like shields. In FTL shields are very simple. If put a guy stationed at the shields console they heal the shields over time. Translated to group play you have one player sitting still making one skill check over and over. For a long time, I couldn't figure out how to make that fun. My first thought was to make it hard. Like you have to roll high so you have to kind of try and stack buffs to succeed. That didn't really work well. The other idea was to not do shields as a station for players. My current thought, the best I have so far, is to make it so shields are small. If you set up a shield then it only affects one room. It gives the player managing the shields a choice. They have to decide what to protect.

On the other side of shields. Life support systems oddly compelling out of the gate. Simply being able to vent rooms on a ship is cool and you quickly get into fun ideas like what if you could use the vents to move different gas attacks around the ship.
 

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