On Friday I began talking about desinging a Ship to Ship combat system. I laid out a basic idea for the core mechanic, areas of responsibility, and how a round could work. Today I want to flesh out some of those areas a bit more, and then take tomorrow to talk about a way it could all flow together. It is important to note that this is mostly still just a rough first pass at this mechanic, and will need testing and feedback to go through and work. Also remember the goals is for narrative focus and speed more than mechanical crunch.
Areas Of Focus
As a quick recap the system works by giving each PC an area of focus in the Ship to Ship Combat. Those PCs are restricted to acts that involve their system, but should have freedom within that area to be creative. The areas of focus are: Command, Weapons, Defenses, Helm, Engineering, Security, and Sensors/Communication.
Command we already gave a role to. Command chooses what two, or three, actions the ship will perform in a given turn. It is then up to those areas to determine what it is they do (preferably with some RP to work it all out.) Today we're going to give some depth to the areas and what they could mean or do.
Weapons is likely to be a very common area to go to because at the most basic this is the "attack" option. The weapons player would be responsible for suggesting weapons, planning out attack patterns, and the actual firing of the weapons. While important in a lot of games this could easily boil down to "Frank, roll attack for us" so I'd recommend care to give the gunner options for how and where they shoot as well as giving them some freedom of activity like cycling frequency settings on phasers to bypass a shield (a la Star Trek) or using low powered and patterned shots to send a message.
This is basically the opposite of Weapons, only the Defenses player wouldn't cover evasive actions. Instead this would be the person responsible for the shield, counter measures, and other active defenses at the ships request. There is a bit more room here for player creativity and less die rolling as a requirement, but in a lot of games the "Defense" person is probably also the "Weapons" person under the guise of "Tactical."
This is actually moving the ship. Evasive actions, plotting courses, making orbit, landing, leaving, all of this is under one person. Like weapons this can easily turn into "Hey Sarah, roll dodge for us" but also leaves things open for potential RP. Is your Helmsman a risky dare devil? An ice-blooded steady hand on the stick? Solid and dependable? How they fly can have a big impact on just what they do.
This is one of the primary support positions. Engineering often gets downplayed in systems because your job here is basically to maintain energy levels, keep the reactor going, and repair the ship. Still, that does give some room to act. A turn focused on engineering could boost almost any other action done by giving it more power, and where that power comes from would be up to the engineer. There is also room here for system repair and other "set piece" situations or "critical hit results" you can bring into play when you have a player in a job dedicated to getting things working again, or keeping them working in the first place.
What does Security do during a big fight? Why this can be its own mini-game. After all, what could be more important than keeping your ship free of boarders, double agents, or other forms of sabotage? At the same time, what could be more useful than getting your own boarders, double agents, and saboteurs on the opposing ship?
This is another more passive role like Helm. This person would be responsible for all communication between ships and also manning the sensors. They could be used for creative ideas though such as Electronic Attacks on the enemy, scrambling target locks, or helping with target locks of their own.
The thing I like most about breaking down the PCs roles is that in a way it can really help bring coordination up. After all, a target lock is both Tactical/Weapons and Sensors/Communication, and getting the players working together to get this done could be really awesome to see. Especially if they work it into one action instead of taking up both actions for the ship. Of course, how that worked would depend on the GM.
The big question left is what do players do when they don't have the focus? On the one hand it could suck to not be in one of the roles called in a fight where command kept giving the activity to Tactical to attack and Helm to keep in range. On the other hand, not having to go around the whole table every round and have people figure out if an action is small enough to not be a ship focus action can speed things up.
I'm angling for "you need focus to act" but then building in an incentive to keep cycling the areas, and perhaps a hard limit like the same area can only be called a max of two times every three rounds. I'll muse more on this tomorrow though. See you then.