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Piloting/Driving Combat in RPGs is No Fun!

John Dallman

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 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.
The first combat has been played, against weak opposition. They took down the defences with ship's weaponry, then landed their robot Marines. Everyone had something to do, and it played reasonably well.

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It is pretty standard design these days to have "stations" or "roles" on a ship so everyone can contribute. This is pretty well done in Starfinder (a game that has its own general issues, due to its Pathfinder pedigree) where the stations are disconnected from character class and instead based on what the PCs are good at. In addition, Starfinder integrates fighters into the system well so you can have a crewed larger vessel along with individual smaller vessels.

In the same way that tactical, turn based small squad combat can never match the frenetic fun of an action movie gun fight, similar vehicle combat cannot match Star Wars dog fighting. But one shouldn't expect it to. These are different forms of entertainment that demand different expectations.

It's also worth bringing up that there is a difference between designing a game and/or character roles around making sure everyone will have fun and participate, and figuring out what to do for a game where vehicle combat isn't something that happens enough to plan character roles around.

@Celebrim brings up some really good points about why squad-based combat works better than other things for group play. What can we do to ameliorate the issues for other sorts of play experiences?

A practical potential solution I hope I can remember to try next time it comes up is to ask the players how they are going to handle it.

"Well everyone, right now Han is flying the ship, Chewie is shooting the gun, and we're probably going to be spending some time on resolving this situation. What are the rest of your characters going to be doing to contribute?"

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