Thursday, March 24, 2016

Psi Wars: Spaceships Playtest -- Starhawk vs Empire-Class Dreadnought

Mjolnir's Might by AdamBurn

The core tension in Star Wars combat is not starfighter vs starfighter, it is starfighter vs starfighter in the context of a larger battle featuring a capital ship.  The contest between capital ship and starfighter dominates the battlefields of Star Wars, and also many of my favorite space fighter games, like Wing Commander or Strike Suit Zero.  On the one hand, a fighter needs to present some kind of threat to a capital ship, but on the other hand, he cannot prove to be so effective that a capital ship is pointless.

So, today Tobin once more bravely agrees to enter the fray (after reluctantly giving up on chasing poor, terrified Typhoon pilots) and face an Empire-Class dreadnought all on his own.  You can find the Empire-Class dreadnought on page 10 of Spaceships 3.

Our Characters

I've already introduced you to Tobin Starlaw.  The pertinent statistics for him are these:
  • Pilot(Starship)-18
  • Gunnery (Beams)-16
  • Artillery (Guided Missile)-16
  • Lucky
  • Combat Reflexes
  • Daredevil
  • Higher Purpose (Dogfighter)
He'll be flying a Starhawk, assisted by TB-7, his repair-bot.

The Empire-Class dreadnought in question, the Arc of Dominion, is crewed by a modestly competent crew with a skill of 12.


We will be using the Standard distances with the 20-second round.  While it's too early to start changing things around, I know we'll want Cockpit Multitasking and Airplane-style Dogfighting (both SS4 page 33) because that's the heart of the genre. As before, we will not bother with Navigation (Characters in Psi Wars don't need to navigate space.  They just point their ship and go.  Hyperspace is a different story, of course) or Tactics (Fighter Aces are missing tactics?  That's quite an oversight).

Before a fight begins, we must declare what our characters are already doing.  In this case, all ships are Holding Course.  Tobin and the Arc of Dominion has his force screens already powered, and all ships have 1 engine powered for +1 acceleration bonus.

Tobin gets to go first, because he's quicker than the mook pilots (Basic Speed 6).  The Encounter starts at Long range (neutral distance)

Turn 1

Tobin chooses to Close: the sooner he can get close to the Arc of Dominion, the sooner he can hurt it. He also chooses to attack, so he has a total of -1 to both rolls. His robot, TB-7, is going to Improve Power and supplies power to everything.

Tobin activates all 4 engines and spends 40 MPS for +4 acceleration bonus. (He has 410 remaining). He has a pilot skill of 18, +4 from acceleration bonus, -1 from multi-tasking +2 from the Starhawk's handling, giving him a grand total effective Pilot of 23. The Arc of Dominion has a 12+1 maneuver -1 from Handling for 12. Tobin rolls a 10, the Arc of Dominion's pilot rolls a 9. Success by exactly 10! Tobin chooses for a crash course. He's currently Close.

Notes: He will not be close once the Arc of Dominion takes its turn. He could choose to be “engaged” and there's some value to that, but given that he's going to win each round anyway, he can just keep swooping close. You cannot “maintain closeness” easily in spaceships. Also, most of Tobin's piloting advantage is skill. A Starhawk can get a maximum of +4 acceleration and has +2 handling, while a dreadnought has +2 acceleration and -1 handling.

He fires all 4 of his lasers: SM is +14. Range is -4. Fixed mount is +2. Multiple shots fires is +1. 10 MJ lasers can fire S/L, so it can hit just fine, and it deals 4d(5) damage. With effective skill 29, he'll easily hit with all 4 shots.

The Arc of Dominion can choose to dodge: The pilot's skill is 12, so their dodge is 5 (6 -1 handling). They'll effectively dodge nothing. All 4 shots hit, each dealing an average of 14(5) damage. The Arc of Dominion has lost 5 points of shields, which recharge instantly.

Note: A dreadnought's Force Screens make Tobin's laser fire completely useless, which isn't all that surprising, but Tobin should present some threat.

The Arc of Dominion
The Arc of Dominion will take evasive maneuvers. It fires up 2 engines, which is worth a total of +2 defense, and Tobin is removed from close range. We're back to Long range.

Note: This is the other reason Engagement is pointless. It's too easy to pull away, even if you're a giant ship vs a little fighter.

The Arc of Dominion will fire 30 10 GJ lasers at Tobin. They're L/X so they suffer no loss in damage, and they'll each deal 4dx10(5) damage. Tobin is SM +5, they're at Long range so -12, they're using 1+ GJ lasers, so +1 acc, but Tobin has ECM, so they're at -1. Finally, they're firing 30 lasers, so they're at +5. They'll hit with a 10 or less: They roll an 8 (hitting three times). Tobin needs to dodge! He has skill 18 and a handling of +2 and an ECM for +1, and he definitely has combat reflexes, so he dodges on a 13 or less. He succeeds with a 9 (dodging all three blasts).

Note: if he had been hit, he'd have taken an average of 140(5) damage, which would utterly destroy his little ship. If he had remained Close, they would have had an 18 or less and surely would have hit.

Turn 2

Tobin's going for another run, but this time a torpedo run! He closes again, using the same exact options for skill 23 (and 370 MPS remaining). The Arc of Dominion has a 13 (its evading). Tobin succeeds by 10 with a 13, while the Arc of Dominion outright fails with a 16. He chooses another Collision course. This brings him right into the belly of the rear, and he's close enough to target a weak spot in the armor: He has skill 16+14 SM -6 speed -10 target +3 Acc: He'll hit on a 17 or less, and does so with an 11.

The Arc of Dominion can now dodge with a 6! It still fails to do so, and is hit (it hadn't waited with Point Defense). The Arc of Dominion has hardened DR 300 on its rear, plus 1400 shield DR
  • A conventional 20 cm missile in this scenario deals an average of 1000 damage! If the shields are up, then the armor divisor on the missile drops the shields to 700, and the remaining 300 strikes a hardened DR of 150 (weak point) which means it deals 150 damage, enough to damage one system. If we ignored shields with missiles, it would deal enough damage to put the Arc of Dominion below 0 HP.
  • Alternately, Tobin could be packing nukes. A 20cm missile can carry a 100-kt warhead (nuclear or antimatter). This would deal an average of 28,000 damage, enough to vaporize the Arc of Dominion.
Note: When I said I wanted Tobin to present a challenge, this isn't what I had in mind.


Well... that was quick.  The Typhoon's proved harder, though to be fair, only one Typhoon actually died, and it died the same way the Empire-class dreadnought did: Missile fire.  One's survival is completely dependent on point defense in GURPS Space.

Additional notes on things I dislike from my playtest experiences:
  • Missiles are king. They do far too much damage. They're also as hard to dodge as beam weapons. Missiles should be an ECM game (I like that out of Dogfight Action, and it matches what you see in many space-fighter video games).
  • Beam weapons are useless except as point defense.
  • There are too many numbers to calculate! SM this and speed that. Simplify!
  • There's no real “all-out defense.”
  • Evasive maneuvers automatically defeats closing.  No "furball", no "trench runs"
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