Friday, April 11, 2014

Ship to Ship Combat - Designing A Mechanic - Part I

I know, I know, I said today I'd talk more about Social Contracts but this has taken my fancy instead and it is something that, while still very much in development, I wanted to share and see if people had input or ideas for what might work. The idea is to have a primarily narrative focused, quick and fun system to handle capital ship combat whether it be in space or at sea. More after the break.
The Problem
One of the draws to a lot of story worlds like Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, and other similar adventures is the grandiose idea of "naval" combat. Now, in the movies Star Wars primarily showed us this with the fighter pilots and WW2-esque dog fights happening around capital ships that were mostly background dressing. Star Trek, on the other hand, almost exclusively features capital ship combat. Stories set in fantasy adventures or colonial times have actual naval battles with the ships that inspired those very same starships I just spoke about.

Now, systems geared towards those systems will often have some means of handling capital ship combat but as often as not one of two things happen: the system is very clunky and crunchy bogged down by numbers, and only some of the PCs are actually engaged. These two things don't always show up, but they do enough that I'd like to have something ready. Then there are all the other systems that don't have anything, but you still may want to use to run a game that could/should/will feature ship to ship combat at some point.

The Problem of Crunch
First off, Crunch is not inherently a problem. Some people love crunch. Heck, in the right mood I love crunch. However, when a rules system is very rarely used and full of crunch it puts a huge burden of knowledge on the GM and can slow things down. For this system to work it needs to avoid that, leaving the "crunch" aspects to be handled more arbitrarily.

To do this the system will need to minimize dice rolling, minimize rules, and maximize player control when it comes to their turns. Details for this will have to come later as they are designed, but for now these are important things to state out as they are design goals. To successfully "solve" the crunch problem for this we need to hit all those points.

Player Engagement
The second problem is to make all players involved in the Ship to Ship combat so that they all have a role and all have something they can contribute to the system. One of the easiest ways to do this is to give each player an area/function of the ship to be in charge of, then work to make those areas useful/fun/necessary to help keep everyone involved.

In starting on this my own personal interests have me approaching it from a Sci-Fi perspective first, but the basic system should be the same for Space and Naval, only the roles themselves should change.

For space the basic areas I am thinking of are: Command, Weapons, Defenses, Helm, Engineering, Security, and Sensors/Communication. That makes for 7 stations. Weapons/Defenses could be combined into "Tactical" which would leave us with 6 areas. Considering the average group size is 4-6 that should work well for most people. There is also room for things such as "Science" and "Medical" to be added if need be, but those can also be kind of shoved in to other departments as need be.

Now, with these areas defined the next step would be to give each of them a set of "options" for what they could do in any given round. I'm going to go into that in the next update on this, but for now there is one position whose role is already defined and is somewhat of the key mechanic for the whole system.

The player who takes the Command Role is effectively taking the Captain's Chair. As the Captain their job is to oversee and manage/balance how the ship is running, giving focus and priority to certain actions. The way this works is as so: In any given round the ship can focus on a small set number of actions, we'll say 2 or 3 (probably 2.) The person who decides what those actions are is the Command player. However, the person who executes the action is the player in charge of that area.

So, for example, is Susan is the Command for her part of the turn she will give priority and focus to say the Helm and Engineering. The player in charge of the Helm and the player in charge of Engineering then state what they are doing, make their rolls, and the impact of those actions goes into effect. On the next round Susan can then change who has focus. Now, ideally, Susan will give reason with her orders. For example:

Susan: We need to get out of here. All power to engines, helm get us out of the system! (I give focus to Engineering and Helm)
Jacob: I want to see if I can coax some more juice out of the reactor to really get our engines humming and get us a bit more speed.
Erica: I'm going to head for the asteroid field so we can break target locks with the asteroids and then jump out of system.
If Jacob and Erica wanted to do something else well, they could, but then there is the RP and game ramifications for doing that. The only question with this system is what do the other players do when they don't have focus? Ideally they'll have something, perhaps less impactful they can do. Or maybe the goal is to make it so all the actions are desirable and they sit and wait. I'm more a fan of giving them a quiet action they can do that, while maybe not as effective as it could be with focus, still gives them something to do.

Oh, and for credit where credit is due, while I've never read or played in the system myself the way Command works is used in the Star Trek RPG system, which does have a decent way of doing ship combat for itself as well. I'm hoping to make my own, but the idea for this is also in that game.

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