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Piloting/Driving Combat in RPGs is No Fun!

Stormonu

Legend
as an aside, the Aliens Colonial Marine Technical Manual (a non-RPG book) from the 90's had a whole chapter on space combat - particularly utilizing the Conestoga class (USS Sulaco) and a lot of the information of that sourcebook was obviously used for building the game (I love that tech manual).

As for space combat, about the best system I've seen in the old FASA Star Trek RPG, where every player would have a station where they could contribute something during the combat. Most other systems have been hit or miss and really only shine if all the involved players have some vehicle related skill, whether operating a turret, flying the ship, operating shields, reassigning power distributions, determining enemy shield flicker ratios/scanning for weak points or flat-up have their own vehicle. Mostly, its about having something to do for everyone and having everyone interested in being involved in doing something.

As above, If only one or two players have vehicle-related skills, it's either better to quickly skim over the encounter (not the best option, as it can trivialize the PCs who spent character options on that part of the game), or find ways to keeps the other players involved. One of the go-to I've tried to use is what you see in the Star Wars series - while one group is engaged in ship combat, another is engaged in their mission against the enemy on the ground, while the third group is practicing "aggressive diplomacy" against the third leadership group.
 

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aramis erak

Adventurer
Anyone else have any problems with vehicle combat in RPGs? Or is it just me?
While it's not just you, it isn't me in general, but in Alien's case....

Alien's ship combat boils down to the best 2-4 PCs do all 4 needed roles & rolls for ship combat each turn.
The overlap of the skills... means that many characters are reduced to providing a help die only, as they are best leaving rolls on the skill to the guy with the best pool, at least until his stress exceeds 3 (5 if the Nerves of Steel talent is possessed) AND your own stress.

Ground vehicle combat? Not so bad. My current saturday game is Marine focused. Mostly because if you're using vehicles, each of the combat vehicles has two positions, and Pilots are potentially better shots than Marines, so two pilots in the APC and/or two in the Dropship. Rest on the ground upon arrival, psyching each other up by suitable manipulation/command roles, and /or second seating in the APC to assist the driver and/or gunner...

I've had only one player doing the "I've nothing to do"... and the others are all doing small things that add up, right up until the roll out the door...
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
My personal experience with this issue falls into 3 categories:

1) as mentioned several times, don’t use the RPG’s combat rules, use a dedicated wargames of some kind, with the players controlling units on all sides of the combat.

2) find a way to entertain myself while the piloting/hacking/diplomacy sub-game is being played (assuming I’m not involve, of course). Usually, that means I’m either plotting future character actions, contemplating build options, or just a simple game of Mason.*

3) if my character can participate in but isn’t particularly good at the subgame, lean into it. Do what you can. In one carrier ship-based Mecha-centric campaign, I played a PC who was an engineer. We were an “expeditionary”/special forces group, but I missed the memo that everyone’s PC had to pilot a mech. My PC barely qualified on her carrier landings. In her primary role, she was part Gilligan’s Island’s Professor, one part MacGyver, one part Star Trek’s Scotty. On a mission, she kept everything running with coconuts and spit.

But in the combats? Comic relief.





* a simple dice game: roll 6d6, count number of rolls of 4+. Any die rolling under a 4 is set aside. The remaining higher rolling dice are rolled again, and tallied the same way. Repeat until all die have been set aside. Total the number of all rolls of 4+. My personal record is 21, FWIW.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
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 🤓
Not a cheat, but not exactly elegant, either.

In Robotech, it makes sense for the Protoculture mechs... at least if you accept the novelization's details, but it's simple-but-unrealistic for non-protoculture vehicles.

The multiple attacks per melee is also, if the rules are slavishly followed, it gets to be 4 cycles or more through the initiative sequence per melee, typically 2-4 rolls per action, and damage isn't usually telling until the second or third hit; more if using the random hit locations in Bk2...

It's not the worst, but it's not really elegant. The hand to hand rules? Reasonable in Palladium Fantasy... but the extra 2-4 attacks in mechs really make things go slow, especially since so few are telling. Despite the low to strike, against similar level opponents, the parry replaces the AR, so... with the typical parry on par, 50% of shots don't hit. And if the damage is (in the GM's call) impactful, a number of those not dodged/parried will be rolled with for half damage. The Zentraedi in a battle pod ... 50 MDC for the pod main-body, 25 for the body armor, and 1000 to 2200 HP (which takes 10-22 more MDC)... and the two main weapons of the VF-1 series do 6d6 MD, for about 15 to 27 MD, typically... That's 4 solid hits to take out the Z. Battle Pod... but that's often 5 to 10 attacks, thanks to the generous dodge rules and the often generous roll-with-impact rules... plus the often low-level foes for even mid-level PCs, but in ever larger numbers... it can snowball horribly.

That isn't elegance. It's a load of whiffyness. Long slogs. It is, however, simple to explain... simple isn't elegant when the knock-on effects are problematic. And by mid levels (4-6 in Robotech), PCs are still whiffy, but have a third HTH attack... and thus 5 in mecha.

It's one of several reasons why I've only run Palladium Robotech as a handful of oneshots, and one badly handled campaign. And dropped out of the "all palladium mashup" I was playing in. (The others included the lack of social skills, the pretty much useless attributes, and the excessive skills list.) Yet, I kept buying ... because the world development is the one area Mr. Siembieda is really good at. But I've yet to find a system I can do justice to the setting, and its fast, low-whiff combats.

I'll admit, I'm sore tempted to grab the Savage Worlds Macross book.
 

DMMike

Guide of Modos
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.
Star Wars: three types of vehicle scenes come to mind. 1) Several individual pilots fly around in X-wings. 2) Han pilots the Falcon while Chewie mans (well, you know) a gun-pod somewhere. 3) Han pilots the Falcon while several other characters cram into the cockpit, being backseat drivers. Situation 1 is still, basically, individual ("fun") combat, but with vehicles instead of people. 2 represents each PC having something interesting to do on one vehicle. Is it fun? The jury is out. 3 seems like where the complaints are coming from, but oddly, those are the best vehicle scenes in the movies!

Another problem - long combats. I've never been a fan of these, and if your character can't contribute meaningfully to one, yeah: horribly not-fun. The lockpicking scene is bearable by the non-lockpickers because it's short. What if piloting/driving combat was short too? Say, less than 10 minutes? Would other players hold their breath during that combat, especially if they knew that they were entitled to solo scenes (no pun intended) later in the game? Heck, start a timer. Ten minutes. Everyone knows that the combat will end in ten minutes. The one PC who actually took some piloting skill (bless her heart) has to resolve the scene favorably in those ten minutes, or something bad happens. That way, you have a built-in excitement feature that can be appreciated by those who aren't participating.

That isn't elegance. It's a load of whiffyness. Long slogs. It is, however, simple to explain... simple isn't elegant when the knock-on effects are problematic. And by mid levels (4-6 in Robotech), PCs are still whiffy, but have a third HTH attack... and thus 5 in mecha.
Fair. But from what I hear, a load of whiffyness that doesn't have another load stacked on top.
 

I'm considering two ways to do naval combat in D&D 5E.

Option One - Set the Parameters of the Battle
Three steps, all abstracted.

First, the game master determines if there's any chance to avoid a combat. If so, the commander of each side makes an opposed check, each using whatever ability score they want. The game master might impose disadvantage if one side is slower or in a bad position, or grant advantage if they have a clever idea. The winner decides if there's a combat.

Second, if there's a combat, the commanders again make opposed checks, but can use different ability scores. The winner decides how the ships are arranged. Are they side by side for a boarding action? Separated by a small gap? Are two ships pincering another, or did perhaps one ship manage to split the enemies so it's only facing one while the other slowly approaches.

Third, each ship gets one attack (with some really scary ships getting two). If there are multiple ships on a side, you choose where you damage goes. Damage doesn't mean Hit Points, though. If you hit, you inflict some condition on the enemy ship: a fire that is rapidly spreading, a teetering mast, a strike below the water line that causes the ship to list, or damage to some special component like a wizard's study or something.

Then the boarding action happens. Each side gets special benefits based on the ability score or scores their commander used for their checks. The main benefit is to place terrain, which can be on either ship, or even in the water.

Str - Place 12 squares of hazardous terrain - like shattered beams or fires that can cause damage if you move through the area, or firedust that can explode if damaged

Dex - After seeing where the enemies are but before rolling initiative, three characters on your side can use their full movement, perhaps leaping between ships or moving to cover.

Con - Place 12 squares that can provide cover, like fallen debris or stacks of crates.

Int - Place 12 squares that provide concealment, like drifting smoke or loose sails.

Wis - Place 12 squares of difficult terrain, like cracked deck planks or mats of seaweed that washed ashore.

Cha - After seeing where the enemies are but before rolling initiative, three characters on the other side are immobilized on the first turn of combat, perhaps from suppressing fire pinning them down or a confusion about whether they're supposed to attack.

Pros of this idea? Really fast to resolve, lets the players naturalistically collaborate to tweak the battlefield.

Cons of this idea? Player choices don't influence the 'ship to ship' part of the battle that much. It's detached from existing game mechanics.

Option Two - Ships as Monsters
Ships use a statblock basically just like a monster. They have HP, attacks, movement, saves. The only real difference is that the scale is one square per 100 feet, and each round is one minute. Medium ships are 1 square (100 feet). Large ships are 2 squares, and Huge ships 3, Gargantuan 4. Your average ship has speed 400 to 600.

The PCs pick a captain who 'controls' the ship and plays it like a monster. They pick an ability score to represent their style of command. Also, their stat bonus determines how many 'officer actions' the ship can benefit from each turn. (So a stoic dwarf captain might pick Constitution. If his Con score is 18, the ship can benefit from 4 actions per turn.)

Str provides a bonus to combat maneuvers and to ship attacks at point blank range.
Dex provides a bonus to ship AC and to checks to avoid difficult terrain.
Con grants the ship temporary HP each turn.
Int makes it easier to score critical hits on opposing ships.
Wis provides a bonus to initiative.
Cha grants a bonus to the ship's saving throws.

Then each PC (up to the limit based on the captain's stat) can take one action per naval round to help the ship. You could make a Vehicle skill check to basically do combat maneuvers (you can drive an enemy ship into bad terrain, or ram to capsize, or grapple for a boarding action). Concealment might be hard to get, but you can try to Hide. You could also Dash or Dodge, or Disengage to avoid the opportunity attacks of a kraken. Maybe there'd be a check to try to repair a damaged component (but repairing damage should be harder than inflicting it).

The ship gets its own attacks automatically, but you might make use your action and make an attack roll to try to score a critical hit to mess with a ship component, or even to hit a specific creature on the other ship.

Pros of this idea? It plays out naval combat with rules very similar to existing D&D.

Cons of this idea? One captain gets to have most of the fun. There might not be enough meaningful options for the players to choose from.

---

Any thoughts?
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
Fair. But from what I hear, a load of whiffyness that doesn't have another load stacked on top.
The HP have a PE (=D&D Con) kicker, the personal SDC adds 0 to 40, depending upon skill choices, and worn SDC can be up to several hundred. And that's ignoring the mega-damage settings.

Palladium combat can be a blast, but there's a serious need for descriptiveness RAW. There is implied movement importance (due to fairly concrete ranges given for weapons), but many flavors don't specify movement distances per melee round. (For Example, in the 1985 The Mechanoids, the only concrete movement speeds for players are travel overland per day... 60 km unencumbered to LBA; EBA and heavier 40 km; reduced if fatigued). I think Mr. Siembieda expects people to know D&D used 30 feet per round and use 10m per round.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I think the key is to keep the focus on the characters, rather than on the vehicles. With things like Starships and sail boats, lots of things can be happening during combat that aren't just piloting and shooting. Even to bring back the Start Wars example from upstream, there were times when the non-flyers had to fix stuff, put out fires, etc. Even a completely unrelated or semi related task would do, like, for example, decipher the coded message so we know where to hyperjump to, or whatever. Damage to the vehicle or extreme piloting could cause all sorts of problems the other characters might have to deal with. The more vehicle focused things are the more, IME, things tend to feel more abstracted and often less tense, and the easier it is for the non flyers to get bored. You can't give every character something to do every time, but you don't have to, it's really only important in longer combats.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
I liked Star Wars Saga Edition's approach for vehicle combat. Every ship has up to, IIRC , four potential stations: the pilot, the gunnger, the engineer, and the commander. Starfighters like an X-Wing had three: pilot, gunner, and engineer; and the pilot and gunner were the same character and the engineer was usually a droid. Ships like the Millenium Falcon had at least one of each, and big capital ships like a Star Destroyer had dozens of each, except the commander.

Combat was abstract enough that once in a dogfight it was contained to a single square and the pilot's job was to keep the ship from being blown up, the engineer's job was to fix the ship, and the gunner's job was to kill the other guy. The commander was mostly a thing on capital ships that couldn't dogfight, so they tended to produce results that either helped the other stations, or mimicked some of the things dogfights produced. Either way every player could do something, and had to decide what to do on a round by round basis.

The nice thing with starship vs ground combat was mostly scale. A group could in theory fight a TIE fighter, but couldn't hope to take a Star Destroyer out with blaster rifles.

Add to that the skill system was setup that dedicated skill users had more functions, not necessarily higher numbers to use the skills, it meant everybody had a fair shot at most skill tasks, even if the dedicated user had more things they could do.
 
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Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
To each their own, but I really enjoy the vehicle combat system in WEG Star Wars. I used the same set of rules for everything from PCs shooting blasters all the way up to a Death Star shooting its main laser at a capital ship AND its use of scaling dice meant that while the players can blast away at an escaping Tie Fighter with their blaster rifles, the chance that it would result in any significant damage was pretty rare.

There was also a lot of support for customizing and fixing up both ground based and fighter scale star ships.

I was so proud the day my character took their super modified heavy fighter (even more capital ship capable than a B-Wing but otherwise a lumbering beast) and managed to take out an escort star destroyer in a big battle.

I also really enjoyed the fact that there was a standalone fighter combat boardgame (Star Warriors) that used the same system as the RPG so you could port your characters into the more tactical boardgame style game if you wanted. In my opinion Star Warriors is SOOOO much better than X-wing (the current minis game) at reflecting the feel of the different classic on-screen fighter types.

I also put in an honorable mention for Torg (also originally a WEG game) for having a vehicle combat system that meshes well with the RPG as a whole. While the system isn't all that tactical...it does allow you to run a vehicle combat without learning anything new over the base rules.
 

Maingame

Villager
Lot's of great ideas here! I'll 2nd Torg as well...we had a lot of fun with it when it first came out (don't remember using the card deck that much though...).

I'd like to give a shout out for Palladium's Road Hogs book for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle's After the Bomb setting. TMNT was pretty fun back in the day, before Robotech and way before Rifts. Player's never seemed OP, no matter what they did, and combat was a blast. Palladium still has one of the best hand to hand melee combat systems, with lots of options for blow-by-blow thrashing around (down to the last drop of blood). For me, that made it terrible if there are more than a few people at the table, for the same reason listed above for vehicle combat...the other people at the table had to wait long periods for a turn to do something.

Road Hogs had some good, granulated construction rules that make a fairly realistic Post-Apocalyptic Vehicle (set in the 1980's), that didn't get bogged down too much with minutiae. You grab a junker off the road (after the nukes fall...all cars are FREE!), fix it up so it can run again, slap some armor and weapons on...and off you go!

The driver does the driving (and sometimes shooting), the passenger(s) fires out the windows, and it you build it right, the car/truck might have a turret (or two) for others to fire as well. There are a few random tables for road quality, failed drive checks, and problems just around that next corner that can throw some unexpected twists to a chase but that's about it. Kinda simple...

Maybe the lack of fun with a piloting sequence can be solved by just making sure everyone at the table can contribute, even a little? (like the group actions in combat for DnD mentioned before). For me...I just made sure everyone had a chance to shoot at the other vehicles. Sometimes ballsy characters would jump off onto another car to stab someone, others might drop dynamite in front of the cars chasing them...it was never NOT fun.
 

Well, I for one, love Robotech from Palladium as a good example for mech combat. Battletech was also great. But for ship to ship combat in an RPG game, nothing beats FASA's Star Trek. Every bridge crew had something to do during ship to ship combat. Even the science officer and the medical officer (reducing damage and casualty when hit where the shields were down). Engineer, helmsman, captain, 1st officer name the job you had something to do during combat.

FASA's Star Trek also had rules where ship to ship combat could be done as each ship as an entity to (usually for mass battles) but it was the RPG aspect of ship to ship combat that was really fun.
 

Maingame

Villager
Agreed, the very first Robotech book was really good. We played for many years but things stalled out after The Sentinels came out (bummer...the Inorganics were pretty cool and a recon / stealthy / ambush flavor was emphasized and looked fun).

The 1st Macross book had TONS of useable stuff and ideas, and a different kind of mech for just about anyone (even Destroids were pretty fun). But, the huge amount of missiles kind of killed things for me personally. Realistic yes...but kind of a mood killer until they finally ran out and you had to actually fight to survive.

Can't speak at all for Star Trek, never played it and don't know anyone who did (I'm a personal fan of TNG). Played a bit of FASA Shadowrun though.

Your starship roles reminds me a bit of the pirate campaign I ran around 2008 (DnD 3.5). It really was a whole party affair when they fought off other ships. The fighter/rangers shot arrows or ballistas, the bard ran around singing buffs and healing constantly, and someone (it might have been the thief) was busy healing their damaged ship with Repair or Make Whole.

I think the one time the party's ship went down they just swam underneath, boarded the other ship, and killed off the other crew for a brand new ship. They did go back to raise and repair their old ship later...occupied at that point of course.

Which might make a darn good Star Trek movie as well.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
Star Wars: three types of vehicle scenes come to mind. 1) Several individual pilots fly around in X-wings. 2) Han pilots the Falcon while Chewie mans (well, you know) a gun-pod somewhere. 3) Han pilots the Falcon while several other characters cram into the cockpit, being backseat drivers. Situation 1 is still, basically, individual ("fun") combat, but with vehicles instead of people. 2 represents each PC having something interesting to do on one vehicle. Is it fun? The jury is out. 3 seems like where the complaints are coming from, but oddly, those are the best vehicle scenes in the movies!

Another problem - long combats. I've never been a fan of these, and if your character can't contribute meaningfully to one, yeah: horribly not-fun. The lockpicking scene is bearable by the non-lockpickers because it's short. What if piloting/driving combat was short too? Say, less than 10 minutes? Would other players hold their breath during that combat, especially if they knew that they were entitled to solo scenes (no pun intended) later in the game? Heck, start a timer. Ten minutes. Everyone knows that the combat will end in ten minutes. The one PC who actually took some piloting skill (bless her heart) has to resolve the scene favorably in those ten minutes, or something bad happens. That way, you have a built-in excitement feature that can be appreciated by those who aren't participating.


Fair. But from what I hear, a load of whiffyness that doesn't have another load stacked on top.
Several things wrong in your post. corrections:
1) Chewie flies, Han Shoots - Ep IV
2) You left out the constant splitting of the party in the films.
3) direct equivalence between film and RPG is generally is not going to lead to good play, or, in the rare cases it goes the other way, not a great film

As for Robotech
That load of Whiffiness in Robotech is layered upon a load of insufficient damage to be telling unless you make called shots to the cockpit or sensor... which while not impossible, results in even more whiffiness.
 

I picked up the new Alien rpg last week and while I haven't run it yet I think it's a pretty good game. I thought it was a bit odd that the author's tacked on a Pilot character class and devoted a few pages to ship-to-ship combat because that's not something we see a lot of in the Alien franchise. For the most part, vehicles are either where the scenario is set (Alien) or a way to get somewhere (Aliens). But it got me thinking: Have I ever played an RPG where piloting/driving vehicles in combat was fun? And I really couldn't think of any.

I should have a lot of fun flying an X-Wing in any version of Star Wars but whether we're talking the original WEG or the more recent FFG I just find it tedious. Ship-to-ship combat in Rogue Trader was dull as dishwater, vehicle combat in Savage Worlds is "stupid" as my players describe it, and I don't even remember it being particularly good in Mechwarrrior (unless we were just supposed to switch to Battletech rules). What gives?

Part of the problem is that not every character is useful when it comes to vehicle combat. In Rogue Trader you could have one personally essentially in control of all the guns, one person piloting, and a few other PCs who could contribute in meaningful ways but typically they were tedious tasks. In Star Wars so few skill points are given to PCs that it's hard to build someone who is competent on the ground and also in an X-Wing (so unlike the movies the game tries to emulate) and even with a pilot build combat isn't particularly fun.

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.

Anyone else have any problems with vehicle combat in RPGs? Or is it just me?
D20 SWSE wasnt bad when you used the SotG manouvers in combat. Star Strike for Spacemaster was passable if highly convoluted and crunchy.

But I do agree. It's something no designer has ever really nailed.
 

John Dallman

Explorer
I've just started running a space navy game that has not had any combat yet, but I expect at least half the campaign's fighting to be ship-to-ship. The ship has seven crew, all on the bridge: Captain, XO/Navigator, pilot, two weapons officers, electronic warfare officer, engineer. Two of the crew are NPCs: one of the weapons officers and the pilot, because nobody wanted to play the pilot.

The system is GURPS Spaceships, whose combat system is simple and stresses giving as many of the bridge crew as possible stuff to do. We'll see how well it works.
 

Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
I'm not going to try to find a solution to "have everyone feel like they contribute when not everyone is a vehicle combat specialist."

However, I will say that games where everyone is a vehicle combat specialist can be a lot of fun, whether it's Robotech, Heavy Gear or a newer game specifically designed around the experience.

There are three which stand out for dealing with the obvious problem you get in games like Heavy Gear when you max out your AGI and PER to ensure that you're great at piloting and aiming, and lousy at everything else, and everyone else makes a more balanced character who doesn't shine as much in the cockpit. They all assume you're gonna be a pilot first, plus some other skills outside the cockpit.

Warbirds by Steve and Cait Bergeron is built on the Rapidfire system, which uses d6 rolls and could be described as "Dream Pod 9's Silhouette, done right." It has an abstract but reasonably detailed air combat system (no maps, but an initiative positioning track to indicate who has the drop on whom), nice simple aircraft mechanics (prop planes, with expansions for jets and space fighters), and most importantly, Dexterity is not the god stat - instead, everyone has the same starting Situational Awareness (the killer stat for air combat) which is averaged from their other stats (Body, Mind, Spirit) and everyone gets the same pool of points for buying air combat skills (Piloting, Strafing, Gunnery, Ordnance) so that they can choose to specialise in fighting duels or blowing up bases and skyships. Where you differ is in your out-of-cockpit activities, where you could be a brawler, a spy, an outrageous socialite or anything else - and again, the out-of-cockpit character is built with a separate pool of points, and your Mind, Body and Spirit stats affect your rolls in all these things but rarely affect air combat. In other words, there is no way to min-max by being lousy outside the cockpit and great in the cockpit, or vice-versa. Bonus points for a cool alt-history setting where the Caribbean Islands (and chunks of Mexico and Florida) get sucked into a world of floating islands and skyships, and rebuild a Crimson Skies-esque civilization based on prop planes and pulp tropes.

I and my friends have played multiple campaigns of this game, and it's quite good.

Flying Circus by Erika Chappell had a successful Kickstarter, and the digital version is now out on both Drivethru and Itch. It's about mercenary biplane pilots in a Miyazaki-esque post-apocalyptic setting with magic, monsters and industrial war machines. Technically it was built on Powered by the Apocalypse but has been hacked so much that you would hardly recognise it. There are 2d10 rolls; a detailed plane dashboard sheet that tracks altitude, speed and fuel; and loads of aircraft stats (more detailed than the other two games I'm talking about).

Every one of the four attributes makes you better at air combat in some way (social rolls are governed by Calm, which is also used to land a plane safely, for example). And there's a huge amount of variety in the character playbooks (which represent social backgrounds and how you manage relationships, and whether you get certain types of magic), as well as four different air combat Masteries which provide styles of fighting: Bushwack (ambush and first strike), Dogfighter (turning and manoeuvres), Slipstream (defensive fighting and waiting for the enemy to slip up) and Sharpshooter (long-range marksmanship). These are like different groups of Feats in D&D, and you start with access to only one style, but can gain more eventually. There are plenty of personal Moves that make each character distinctive in a similar way to other PbtA games, like "One in a Million" for the Farmer (Young Luke Skywalker archetype) or "Stiff Upper Lip" for the Soldier.

Flying Circus, like the other two "ace pilot" games I'm talking about, has a typical gameplay cycle of: Combat Mission -> Downtime -> Combat Mission, which it inherits from its predecessor Night Witches. Erika adds an experience mechanic that I find quite nifty: Accumulate Stress in combat, go to the bar or indulge in various other vices to get rid of Stress during Downtime and Stress that you clear turns into XP. It's a virtuous cycle that drives each phase of gameplay, much like the Stress and Downtime in Forged in the Dark games!


Beam Saber, by Austin Ramsay (of the You Don't Meet In An Inn podcast), also had a successful Kickstarter just before the pandemic. This is a Forged in the Dark game about playing a squad of mecha pilots in a massive war, and it's been development for years. The structure will be familiar to Blades in the Dark players, but instead of playing a gang in a haunted industrial city, you're a specialised mech squad trying to survive and achieve personal goals in a war that's much bigger than you, in which many factions battle around a ruined planet that may have once been known as Earth, cradle of humanity.

There are a wide range of playbooks, each of which has the same number of points to spend on personal stats and vehicle stats (except the Ace, who has a couple more points to make their vehicle stats just plain better). The Envoy uses deception and influence, the Hacker uses brains and digital intrusion, the Infiltrator sneaks, the Soldier fights in close quarters, the Scout snipes from afar, and so on. But they all get their own vehicles with specialty gear befitting their role, kind of like the ensemble cast in the old cartoon Exo-Squad. Vehicles are treated like an extra layer of six player character stats, with Quirks instead of Stress to help escape consequences of bad rolls.

And the Squad gets its own Playbook, keeping track of shared upgrades and abilities that everyone has, like a Crew in Blades. Different Squads will have different special abilities and goals - the Frontline gets abilities to help it in straight-up fights, while the R&D gets experimental tech to test. Beam Saber expands on the gang and faction system of Blades by having multiple Squads serving each Faction, and a Forward Operating Base instead of a Lair. During Downtime between missions, Supply rolls provide Materiel and Personnel points with which to repair and upgrade vehicles and characters respectively. And there are interesting, subtle additions to the Blades system, like employers forcing the Squad to follow certain Rules of Engagement during missions.

Artwork is still being done, but you can get in on the digital Beta version on itch.io and there is also a Backerkit pre-order available.

 



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