Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Psi Wars: Spaceships Playtest -- New Ruleset

Tobin Starlaw leads a squadron (Arrow Squadron) of Starhawks featuring the pilots Punk and Stubbs. Tobin has Pilot-18, Gunnery (Beams)-16, and Artillery (Guided Missile)-16. Punk and Stubbs have all those skills at 14. They're making a forward run on the Arc of Dominion in a desperate effort to stave it off before it can reach the vulnerable, battle-weary Alliance fleet orbiting the dead world Styx. Each is armed with one (and only one!) Light Fusion Torpedo.

“We've got one shot at this, boys.”

The idea is to hit the fusion reactors on the back. If they depower the ship and leave it adrift, then the fleet will have time to make repairs and either fight, or jump out.

The Arc of Dominion is crewed by a somewhat competent crew with skill-12. They have two squadrons of 5 Typhoons, Red Squadron and Blue Squadron. The Arc of Dominion can scramble all ten fighters in one minute (three turns).

Combat begins with Arrow Squadron and the Arc of Dominion both holding course. The Arc of Dominion is going as fast as it can: all engines are powered for a +1 acceleration bonus. Arrow Squadron each has two engines fired up for 100gs (+4 acceleration)

Arrow Squadron gets to go first



Turn 1

Arrow Squadron

Tobin makes the call for Arrow Squadron: Close on the Arc of Dominion! Stubbs and Punk acknowledge over their comms. All three have their robots power their shields and angle them forward. Their robots each attempt to boost power: 12, 8 and 3. All three get an extra bonus point of power and power their cannons, intent on firing on the turrets.

“Keep an eye out for those turrets. We're going close,” Tobin's comm crackles, and they make their approach.

Tobin has Pilot-18, an acceleration bonus of +8, and a handling bonus of +2 and -1 for cockpit multitasking for 27. The Arc of Dominion currently has +1 acceleration and -1 handling, so it's skill 28 vs skill 12. Tobin rolls an 8, beating his skill by 19, while the Arc of Dominion rolls a 13 and outright fails. Tobin elects to be Close and to have Advantage: He chooses to face the central hull rather than the forward hull.

The four know that the turrets are going to cause some serious problems, so they aim for the turrets (-5) and shoot for their gaps (-10) while being at close range (-4), and firing four cannons (+1 RoF) while multitasking (-1). Fortunately, the Arc of Dominion is huge (+9). Tobin has a 6 or less, the other two have a 4 or less. Eh, better than nothing: 16, 7 and 14. No hits. Oh well. Their laser beams spark hopelessly against the force screens (Right, forgot about that).

Arc of Dominion

The Arc of Dominion commander immediately orders all squadrons to scramble “I want those fighters destroyed. You hear me? DESTROYED!” Black-helmeted pilots race to the hangar. This is turn one of the scramble.

The Arc of Dominion tries to evade the fighters: The Pilot has skill-12, the ship has +1 acceleration (doubled!) and -1 handling. That gives it skill 13 vs Tobins's 28. Maybe Tobin will roll really badly? 11 vs 8. Nope!

Then it fires: As Arrow Squadron are currently facing the central hull, the frontal secondary battery and the central tertiary battery can both fire on them. The gunners have skill 12, arrow squadron is close -4, very small (-9) and they're firing 10 times at each fighter (+2): They cannot hope to hit (Effective skill 1). Blaster file arcs the skies around arrow squadron, but they remain safe.

Turn 2

Arrow Squadron


“Stay in formation. If you see a shot on those engines, take it” Tobin leads his squadron even closer. Again, they need to keep all of their power up. Stubbs, whose tech-bot critically succeeded last turn, automatically succeeds. The remaining two attempt it: 7 and 8. Both have enough power for their shields and their four cannons. Again, they keep all four engines going.

Again, they close: Arrow rolls an 8 vs Arc of Dominion's 14. They have more than enough to gain additional Advantage and face the Rear of the Arc of Dominion and are hugging it. Their ships rock as they cross the deflector screen. The engines loom before them, as well as the exhaust port for the powerful spinal cannon of the resilient. But their eyes, and their targeting computers, focus instead on two armored ports that lie over the super fusion power plants. They could fire now: The Arc of Dominion is huge (+9), has no ECM (-0), while they have Tactical Arrays (+2), and they're multi-tasking (-1) and they need to hit a specific location (-5) ideally at the weakest point (-10). If they skip attacking the weakest point, Tobin is at 21 and the rest are at a 19. If they go for the best possible shot, they're at 11 and 9. As the armor is hardened, their torpedos will face 30 DR (or 15 if they go after the weakpoint). Their torpedoes do 140 damage, so that's the difference between 110 or 125, and if someone rolls badly, they might fail to disable it with an attack, and they only have three between them and also face no opposition.

“Focus on those engines” Tobin commands. Around them. reactionless engines burn with dramatic blue light as the ships dart between the towering diamondoid columns, looking for armor gaps. They find them and fire: SM +9, Range -0, RoF +1, Fixed Guns +2, Multi-tasking -1, -5 engines -10 gaps for a total of -4. Tobin has a 12, while the other two have an 10: 11, 12 and 13. Tobin lands not one but two hits! The Arc of Dominion has a dodge of 5+1 (from evasion) or 6, but rolls an 8 and fails. He deals 14 and 10 damage, which isn't enough to really damage the engines. The squadron cheers as the lasers find their mark and sparks burst out of the massive metal column, and smoke begins to churn, but their cry fades as the engines continue to burn.

The Arc of Dominion: Remaining HP 676

The Arc of Dominion continues to scramble. The pilots leap into their cockpits, watching as their canopies close and the hangar bay doors begin to open, with only a thin barrier of energy between them and space.

The Arc of Dominion cannot fire on the squadron, because the squadron is hugging them and they have no turrets on their rear. The commander chews at his fingernails, knowing he is so close to the Alliance fleet, but still so far. One of the control screens flare red, but the technician reading it says “Nothing to worry about. Secondary systems are coming back online for engine 7.”

“Continue evasive maneuvers” he commands, but to no avail: 14 vs 12 just won't cut it.

Turn 3

Arrow Squadron.

Rinse and repeat: 12, 11 and 9, all three keep their power maxed out. And once again, they succeed by more than 10 to approach the Arc of Dominion, granting them +2 advantage bonus to their shot. They're now at 13 and 11 respectively for their final shot. “Stay on target.” Tobin commands them. Punk mutters excitedly under his breath.

They fire at the engines again, from much closer this time: SM +9, Range -0, Fixed Guns +2, RoF +1, Multi-tasking -1, -5 engines -10 gaps, +2 advantage for a total of -2. Tobin has a 14, they rest have a 12. They roll 9, 11 and 11. That's 4 shots, and 2 shots hitting for each of the other. The Arc of Dominion,failing to surprise no one, fails to dodge all three. The shots deal 10, 8, 19, 20 for Tobin, 19 and 10 for Punk, 13 and 14 for Stubbs. The total damage is 113, disabling one engine (almost destroying it!). The cheer rises up again as the engine columns begin to die one by one, and the ship begins to list, its thrust slightly off balance.

Arc of Dominion: Remaining HP 573
The resilient has only one engine remaining and begins to limp along with 12.5 Gs. The technicians begin to scramble as red lights begin to flare on various screens, but the commander simply stares into space, his brow furrowing angrily.

The hangar doors open. The deck crew signal that the typhoon fighters are free to launch. The Typhoon fighters scream out of the hangar.

The Arc of Dominion makes a haphazard attempt to evade, but mostly to increase their dodge.

Turn 4

Arrow Squadron

The armored ports loom close, like a great plain amidst a mountain of engines. “Power down blasters,” Tobin says “Targeting systems at the ready.” They keep their screens powered, and have all 4 engines running as they make ready to attack with their torpedoes. 13 vs 7, the Arc of Dominion rolls well, but lacks any ability to resist their closing in: They know have an Advantage bonus of +4.

The Arc of Dominion is +9 for size, +2 for tactical arrays, Range -0, Multi-Tasking -1, -15 for the armor weak points of the reactors, +4 for advantage gives them a total of +0! It's 16, 14 and 14 to lock and fire. 11, 9 and 10, their ships jump as they lose a quarter ton of missile each, and their torpedoes are away.

The torpedos are close enough to automatically strike. They have an effective skill of 16, +9 from size, +2 from a tactical array, -15 from the size of their target. That's a 12 or less. They roll an 8, a 12 and a 9. The Arc of Dominion fails to dodge all three. They deal 130, 180 and 190 damage, -15 each for a total of 115, 165 and 175. One reactor is disabled. The other is destroyed. The Arc of Dominion has taken 455 damage (it's still not at 0 HP), and has no powered systems anymore. Arrow squadron whoops and signals back to the fleet that the mission is a success. But then Stubbs grumbles “We still have to get back.”

“How hard can it be?” Punk replies.

The Arc of Dominion: Remaining HP 118
The bridge rocks under the force of the explosions and the lights suddenly die. “Power is failing all over the ship” a nervous technician mutters.

“Can we get that reactor back online?!” The commander demands. “One, maybe. It's badly damaged, but we might get it operational again.”

Blue Squadron

Blue Squadron's engines whine as they race into the fight. They start Close to the Arc of Dominion, which brings them Close to Arrow Squadron. They choose to close and open fire (-1).

They have 4 engines (+8) handling +2 and skill 12, giving them a skill of 21 vs Arrow Squadrons 27. Blue Squadron rolls a 6 (Critical success) while Arrow squadron rolls a 13. They choose to gain advantage twice: they face the central hull and have a +1 to hit.

Their attack is Skill 12 +0 size difference -4 range, -1 multi-tasking and +1 advantage. They have a total of 8 or less to hit, with RoF 2 and 5 of them: 6, 10, 15, 8. The first two shots hit Stubbs (“Why me?” he cries) and the last shot hit Punk. Stubbs and punk have Dodge 7 + 2 handling, or 9 or less: 15 and 9. So Punk just barely evades fire and Stubbs takes two shots the central portion of his fighter as the Typhoons scream down from above. The shots deal 9(5) and 11(5) vs a reduced DR of 10 (his shields are angled, remember) and his central (hardened) armor of 5. The shields are effectively DR 2 and his armor is DR 2, so the shots deal 5 and 7 damage. The first disables his fuel tank, spilling hydrogen all around his ship, and the second disables his engine room. His tech-bot wails plaintively as laser fire rips it apart. Stubbs sobs in horror on the other end of the comm line as he realizes he has no chance of getting home.

Blue Squadron Leader adjusts his sights on Stubb's disabled ship, knowing it's vulnerable. Not everyone will get out of this alive, if he has anything to say about it.

Red Squadron.

Red Squadron squadron is also Close to Arrow squadron, and makes a closing maneuver: 21 vs 27. 12 vs 6. Arrow Squadron critically succeeds! Red Squadron opens fire anyway: Their attack is Skill 12 +0 size difference -4 range, -1 multi-tasking. They have a total of 7 or less to hit, with RoF 2 and 5 of them: 6, 10, 12, 15, 8. 10, 8, 5, 9, 15. Red leader hits twice. He focuses his fire on Punk: with a 10 and a 12, Punk is unable to dodge. However, his forward shields are 40 while he has 5 hardened DR, giving him an effective DF or 10 vs the shots (8 + 2). Blue leader rolls a 10 and 5 for damage. The shields spark but hold. Punk remembers to breathe.

Turn 5

Arrow Squadron
“Stubbs! STUBBS!” Tobin's shouts wake the pilot from his terrified reverie. “I”m showing your hyperdrive still functional.”

“That's right, it is.”

“Good, I want you to power it and head towards the nearest starport you can.”

“But my tech-bot...”

“You can do it. PUNK! I need you to break formation. Go back to the fleet, tell them what happened. I'll protect Stubbs as long as I can.”

“But...”

“Do it!”

“Yessir!”

Stubbs begins to toggle switches in a panic until the hum of his unearthly hyperdrive comes to life. It won't take him far, but it won't need to. He boots up his navigation system, looking for a decent planet to jump to.

Punk tells his techbot to angle the shields behind him, and then he goes for an evasive maneuver: He has skill 14 + 16 from acceleration (Evasion) and +2 from handling. He's not multitasking, just getting the hell out of there. He has a 32, while Blue and Red still have 21. He rolls a 15, Blue rolls a 15 (They're more interested in finishing off Stubbs) and Red rolls a 13. He's on his way out.

Tobin turns on Blue Squadron, tells TB-7 to give him full power, and then he charges all systems and executes a Stunt -6, meaning he needs a 15 or less (skill-18 +2 handling -6 + 1 Dogfighting). He rolls a 6! Almost a critical. He cuts his engines for a second of uncontrolled drift, his Starhawk tumbling through space until the perfect moment for the arc that he wants and then races through the ranks of the scattered Blue Squadron. His Close roll is Skill-18+2 handling +8 acceleration +6 stunt, -1 multi-tasking for a total of 35 vs 21. 12 vs 11, no hope! So he is now Advantaged against them (they lose their advantaged status) and he has a +1 and is facing their Central hulls.

He opens fire: Skill 16-4 close +0 size, +1 RoF+1 advantaged-1 multitasking +2 fixed +1 Higher Purpose for 15 or less. He rolls a 13 and hits three times. The Typhoon has dodge 8 and rolls a 7: one shot misses outright, the rest are dead to the center mass, but the typhoon spins elegantly at the last moment, trying to shake Tobin, and barely dodging two more of the shots... but it doesn't save itself. One last shot lands dead center. Tobin deals 21 damage, and the DR 10 of the Typhoon is reduced to DR 3, dealing 17 damage. The Typhoon only has 15 HP, so this is enough to destroy one system and disable a second: The shot rips through the ECM and damages one of the two fusion reactors (...why does it have two fusion reactors? Ah, it has Super Fusion Torches as “powered.” But they're not powered. Wow, that's Errata). The Typhoon is a mook ship, though, so it just blows up. Blue Squadron is down to 4 fighters.

The Arc of Dominion:
Is no longer relevant. Her crews scramble to repair her reactor, but that will take quite some time, and Arrow Squadron is in no shape to really take her on anymore.

Blue Squadron: 4 remaining
Blue Squadron maintains formation and keeps focusing on Stubbs, intend on destroying him. They have a 21 and Stubbs is in an uncontrolled drift, as he cannot fuel his drives, nor can he dodge. They easily gain two additional advantage points and open fire: Skill 12 +0 size difference -4 range, -1 multi-tasking and +3 advantage. 10 or less: 8, 10, 9, 12. That's one miss, one hit of one shot, and three hits of two shots. Stubbs shields are still angled, so he only has an effective DR or 4: 10, 10, 11, 6, 10.

“It's alright, Tobin,” Stubbs says over the comms as he first laser strikes his ship “I've always wanted to be stardust.” The lasers tear his Starhawk apart in a shower of glittering metal shards and a wave of light that makes those shards glow for just a moment, like fireworks.

Red Squadron: 5 remaining
Red is still Close to Tobin and focuses their fire on him: They attempt to close (21 vs 28) 13 vs 13: Tobin easily keeps them from getting on his six. They still open fire: They are skill 12, -4 close, -1 from multi-tasking for 7 or less: 10, 9, 11, 7, 9: One hit of one laser. Tobin has a dodge of 12 or less and he rolls exactly a 12. His Starhawk swoops in between all of the laser blasts as TB-7 whistles with admiration.

Turn 6

Arrow Squadron
Punk is not Close to anyone, nor is anyone trying to Close on him. He makes his Escape and succeeds.

Tobin sees Punk get away. “Time for us to go, TB-7. Angle the force screens behind us.”

TB-7 repowers the screens so they're angled backwards, and Tobin makes an Evasive maneuver, giving up his Advantage. He has a skill of 18+16+2 or 36 vs their 21. 14 vs 12. He is at Short distance now.

Blue Squadron: 4 remaining.
Blue squadron goes for a Dedicated pursuit of Tobin: Their skill is 12+8+2+3-1 for multitasking, 24 vs his 36. 5 vs 13. Critical success! They're hot on his rear and advantaged to boot! Tobin curses under his breath, while Blue Squadron leader grimly signal his comm with a Death's head symbol.
They open fire: Their attack is Skill 12 +0 size difference -4 range, -1 multi-tasking and +1 advantage, or 8 or less: 7, 10, 12, 10: Blue Leader hits Tobin twice! Tobin needs to dodge. He has a 13 right now: he rolls an 8 and nimbly evades as lasers lightly singe a complaining TB-7.

Red Squadron: 5 remaining
Blue squadron goes for a Dedicated pursuit of Tobin: Their skill is 12+8+2+3-1 for multitasking, 24 vs his 36. 10 vs 13. Tobin leaves them in his dust.
They open fire: Their attack is Skill 12 +0 size difference -8 range, -1 multi-tasking: 3 or less, but they have no luck.

Turn 7

Tobin guns his engines hard. He has to lose these guys and get back to the fleet. He tries a retreat: Skill 28 vs Skill 24 from Blue Squadron. 10 vs 11. Enough! He pulls away to Short range. They'll have to Close again if they want to keep him from escaping.

Red Squadron: 5 remaining
Blue squadron continues its dedicated pursuit, same as last time: 24 vs 28: 16 vs 6. Tobin pulls ahead, leaving the Blue Squadron behind. They can only roll 3 or less to hit, and none do.

Red Squadron: 5 remaining
Red makes one last ditch effort to close ground: 11 vs 5. This time Tobin gets the critical success and pulls away. They can only hit on a 3 or less: None hit.

Turn 8

Tobin makes his escape. Combat ends.

The results are these: It will take the Arc of Dominion about 10 minutes to jury rig one of its reactors back to working. It could thereafter attack, but it risks the reactor failing mid-battle, which is too much risk for the commander to take. Instead, the Arc of Dominion limps home.

Blue Squadron gets a medal for taking one of Arrow Squadron out. The Alliance Fleet at Styx hold a quick funeral after leaping out.

Thoughts

I'm... actually very pleased with this result. I didn't have a chance to really watch missiles in action. They seem overly complicated, especially since you need at least two rolls to hit someone, and a highly skilled character can still miss because of the missile might fail.  I'm not sure I like that. I should do something to fix that. I also found some of the dodging to be quite high. I should allow Deceptive Attacks for some of the more skilled characters. Advantage worked wonderfully, and this felt like a torpedo run. Arrow Squadron took out the Arc of Dominion too quickly for my tastes, but the commander should have had a frigate or a squadron escorting it, and to be frank, I underplayed what it should really look like.  An Empire-Class dreadnought can launch one hundred typhoon class fighters a minute.  Three starhawks would never reasonably get close, so in a way I find it a plausible result given the simplified parameters of the test. Tobin is also an epic pilot, and his team was pretty good. A lesser team might have fared worse. They also didn't one-shot the Arc of Dominion: Despite several successful hits with lasers and three torpedoes, the Arc of Dominion still had positive HP. That feels plausible to me.


The Typhoon fighters were nasty, though obviously badly built. They should have fixed cannons and a single fusion reactor. I don't know what I would slot into that remaining slot, perhaps another engine (250 gs, heck yeah!)

I'm not sure how my version of engagement works when things get complicated. This clearly resembles tactical combat more than the standard system, but when things get wonky, like 5 different ships in various connection to one another, the GM will just have to sort it out. That's a weakness, but I'm prepared to accept it in exchange for how nicely everything else worked.

I didn't get to see the missiles enough in action to know if that's a good change. There are still some potential problems there, but further playtesting will surely work out the kinks.

Our new system isn't perfect, but it feels close enough to the “real thing” that I think most people will grasp it, and it also looks like a Star Wars star-fighter scenario.

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