Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Psi Wars and the Engines of War

So previously, I established that Mass Combat was a big no go, but then I looked at it anyway.  What popped out was that it offered some interesting, if narrow, gameplay, but it mostly opened up some insights into how empires fight wars in Psi-Wars.  And that doctrine suggests more military hardware than I've shown thus far.

Does that matter?  Do we need more specific tanks and more starships etc?  Well, let's ask our target audience:
  • Brent wants to know if he needs to care.  If not, then no.  Thus, if we can bury the complexity, it's not a problem.  Since this material is mostly for GMs, and entirely optional, that's fine. (Mind you, some GMs are, themselves, Brent.  That is, the GM wants to focus on as little work for himself as possible.  In that case, providing these stats might actually be beneficial to him if we think they're going to come up)
  • Willow would love to see a cohesive military doctrine for the factions of Psi-Wars
  • Desiree finds the whole discussion tedious, as it does nothing for her personal drama.
  • Bjorn thinks its great, provided he can operate and/or battle some of these monstrosities.
So our design goal should be to bury some of this complexity, and use it mostly to offer insights into military doctrines and to give our players something to fight.

Alright, so more hardware it is. But how do we create it?  Well that's easy, you just get out your handy copy of GURPS vehicle...

Er... right.  So what are we going to do? Well, the internet has a few resources (I'd like, at this moment, to direct your attention to GURB, who doesn't have much vehicular content yet, but surely will in time).  But for the most part, we're left to our own devices.  Still, we have a few tactics that can help us.

Vehicle Design Tactic 1: Use GURPS Spaceships

GURPS Spaceships offers plenty of options, especially if your target vehicle is, itself, a spaceship.  Using spaceships presents some problems for ground vehicles, despite having a pyramid article dedicated to precisely that, because Spaceships offers vague approximations on a D-scale, which simply isn't good enough for for human-scale things.

But some of the elements we've decided to add are basically themselves spaceships, and their exact nature isn't that important.  Specifically, I mean a Heavy Orbital Transport, some large transport craft that can bring heavy materiel, like full tanks or artillery.  Now, I feel I should state outright that nothing prevents Empire-Class Dreadnoughts from landing.  In fact, the Viking-Class planetary assault cruiser evidently just lands itself right down and let's thousands of tons of cargo right off the ship.  The problem with this is that I have a hard time imagining such a vast ship simply landing.  On the other hand, any rule I apply to prevent them from landing is a rule that prevents, say, a Dark-Horse Corvette from landing, unless I say "Capital ships can't land."  If we allow capital ships to land, this whole section is unnecessary.

Let's go through it as a mental exercise anyway.

If we want a large ship that can carry serious materiel but doesn't take up much room, we need a very tight design.  I propose a ship capable of carrying 100 tons (that is, T20 in mass combat, which is enough for a super-tank; we could do 80 tons if we absolutely had to).  The vehicle wouldn't need engines, but would need a contragravity drive and a control room.  Ideally, it shouldn't need to face any return fire, but a little bit of armor wouldn't kill it.

The result looks something like this:

Heavy Orbital Lifter


1 Nanocomposite Armor (DR 15) $1.5M
2 Defensive ECM $3M
3 Weapon, Medium Battery $1.5M
4 Hangar Bar (10 tons) $30k
5 Hangar Bar (10 tons) $30k
6 Hangar Bar (10 tons) $30k


1 Nanocomposite Armor (DR 15) $1.5M
2 Hangar Bar (10 tons) $30k
3 Hangar Bar (10 tons) $30k
4 Hangar Bar (10 tons) $30k
5 Hangar Bar (10 tons) $30k
6 Hangar Bar (10 tons) $30k
Core Control Room $600k

1 Nanocomposite Armor (DR 15) $1.5M
2 Hangar Bar (10 tons) $30k
3 Hangar Bar (10 tons) $30k
4 Contragravity $3M
5 Heavy Force Screen $15M
6 Fusion Reactor $3M
Core Fusion Reactor $3M

Spacecraft dST/HP Hnd/SR HT Move Lwt Load Sm Occ dDr Range Cost
Heavy Lifter 50 -4/5 12 NA 300 100 +7 3SV 15* 0 $35M
We have a ship that can power all of its systems, including 1000 DR in shields and 150 DR against small arms fire, and deploy 3 5-ton guns against the enemy while descending.  It can only descend, and all for the cost of about $35m, which isn't too bad.  At its size, we can fit 100 of these on an Empire class dreadnought.   That means space is at a premium: for every 100 tons of material you want to ferry down to a planet, you need 300 tons of shuttle to do it.  It's also spectacularly vulnerable to fighters.  While it's pretty well shielded, a couple of torpedos will destroy this thing, and it doesn't have much in the way of defenses.

Do we need more detail than this?  For now, I say "Definitely not."  It gives  us an idea of what a heavy shuttle/lifter might look like, and a general cost associated with it.  Furthermore, we could just land our dreadnoughts directly on a planet, which removes the need to worry about something like t his.  But it's interesting to explore the possibilities.

Vehicle Design Tactic 2: Use GURPS Ultra-Tech

GURPS Ultra-Tech comes with a variety of vehicles "built in," and many of those, like the grav bike and the grav jeep are "close enough" for our purposes.  With some slight modifications, we could have what we want.  Most vehicles have a load into which you can store whatever gadget you want.  That might seem like cheating, but it's essentially how GURPS Spaceships works: Each ship has a cargo load equal to its own weight "for free" and you just pay additional cost to include a particular component, which takes up some of that "cargo space."  We can do the same here.

Terran Vulture

We've noted that we have "grav-speeder recon troops."  That sounds like guys on grav-bikes, but those grav-bikes need to be armed, armored and ideally loaded down with sensory equipment and comms gear.  If we want a hit-and-run team, quick-deploy mines might be nice, which is how grav-bikes worked in Empire at War, likely because they were ripping off Starcraft.

The Grav Bike (page UT 230) comes with a computer, a portable terminal, a wind-screen HUD and... that's it.  We also have 400 lbs of load to play with, and ST 30.  The original costs $25,000.

We can apply extra armor using the Hardshell armor stats from Pyramid #3-12 Tech & Toys page 9.  We might be better off looking at some actual, vehicular armor, but this will do for now.  Furthemore, a bike is SM 0... which means we need to make no adjustments for SM!  DR 60 weighs 48 lbs and costs $2400, while DR 100 would weigh 72 lbs and costs $3600.  That might seem like a lot of DR, but it's pretty light for a vehicle.

For weaponry, we simply dig up an appropriate blaster.  A semi-portable blaster deals 6dx2(5) burn damage, which is enough to rip through 200 DR (see, told you 100 was light), requires only ST 18, weighs 70 lbs, but costs more than the entire bike and requires a spare E-cell which is another 20 lbs.  So, all told, about 100 lbs. 

If we want additional firepower, we could Add an MLAWs to the side, which is "light enough" at 35 lbs.  We could add two, if we anted it balanced, or we could say that there are three tubes on either side, which strikes me as more realistic.  

A mine-dropping system is harder to imagine.  We have mines, but no launch system other than a limpet mine dispenser.  I could probably devise one, but we're trying to be quick. In any case, I think most people would rather have homing missiles as they speed towards their target, open fire, and then race on out, rather than zip up, drop some mines, race away, and hope they step over them.  That's more of a RTS artifact than a really viable tactic.

For comms and sensors, a medium ripple-comm will communicate with others from virtually anywhere on the planet, and weighs a meager 5 lbs.  For active sensors, the simplest approach is simply to take a Tactical Sensor Turret (UT 66) for another 70 lbs.  The net result is we lose about 300 lbs to our gear, and our price goes up to a staggering $500k per bike.  That seems like a lot, but note that we have nearly the equivalent to heavy support on each bike, but a high-level sensor system.  The sensors are over half the cost, so we'd need to do a cost-benefit analysis on putting $300k worth of sensory gear in the nose of a light combat bike.  Given that $500k means the bike is 20 points as signature gear, I think reducing it back down to $200k (8 character points) is more reasonable, especially since I imagine some people would like one.

The net result (I slightly lowered the top speed to account for the difference in being well armored) is this
Vehicle dST/HP Hnd/SR HT Move Lwt Load Sm Occ dDr Cost Loc
Combat Bike 30 30 11 20/75 0.4 0.1 0 1+1 100 $200,000 EX

Vehicle Design Tactic 3: A little Spaceships, a little Ultra-Tech

The problem with using GURPS Spaceships to design human-scale vehicles like bikes and tanks, even with Pyramid #3-34 Alternate GURPS: Alternate Vehicles, is that Spaceships isn't granular enough.  This is particularly a problem when it comes to weapons.  In Spaceships, for example, all missiles and bullets for a particular size deal the same damage with an armor divisor of 2.  There's no plasma weapons, or HE weapons, or HEMP weapons or EMP rounds, just conventional and nuclear.  Beam weapons are a little better, but all guns are defined in vast quantities, measured in 10s of tons.

But we can use broad outlines.  For example, it sets out various armor values at various tech levels.  We can compare the ratio between costs and DR to find what an upgraded version of a vehicle might be.  For example, a TL 10 grav tank has 700 DR on its front. If we look in GURPS Spaceships, typical TL 10 armor is Nanocomposite, and DR 700 is equivalent to dDR 70, or a (rather dubious) 1500 tons of armor, or the SM +11 unstreamlined entry, which costs $150m.  The equivalent at TL 11 would be diamonoid at unstreamlined +11 which comes to DR 1000 and $300m.

Now, obviously, this has problems, namely that DR is far too low for the tonnages we're talking about (which is a common problem with GURPS Spaceships).  A tank is not going to clock in anywhere near 1500 tons.  But if we assume that the tank is correct, then we can increase the DR to 1000 for "double the cost," though we'd need to guess at what the original cost of the armor was.

To do that, we could design a tank in GURPS spaceships. The numbers might not line up quite right, but we start to get an idea as to ratios.  We can't "really" create a tank, but we can get a good enough idea at one for our purposes.

When it comes to weapons, we have numerous weapon-design systems at our disposal, or existing weapon systems.  GURPS Spaceships treats every component as something you slot into cargo space... which is exactly how Ultra-Tech treats it too.  So if you have 1 ton of "cargo space," you can reasonably argue that you can slot in one ton of gun (or comm system, or shields or sensors, etc).  GURPS Spaceships becomes useful for getting general costs of the infrastructure of vehicle, its power systems, its drive train, etc, while Ultra-Tech becomes useful for specific gear.  There's a danger here, though, because some Ultra-Tech stuff is "too good" (some shield systems) and some Spaceship systems are terrible (armor).  So we have to modify and noodle around until it passes a basic smell test.

Is it highly arbitrary guess-work?  Yes.  But so would any design of a vehicle without any guidelines.  This, at least, gives us slightly superior guess-work, because it has some proper guidelines that go with it, that also ensure that most of our designs are more or less in the same ballpark.  It's not great, but it's what we got until GURPS Vehicles comes out.

The Super Tank

So, I liked the idea of a super-tank, since it totally fits the larger-than-life nature of Psi-Wars.  GURPS even has one already in the form of the Ogre, which we could try to convert from 3e to 4e, though that would take a lot of work (We'd need to convert it, then convert it from a TL 9 weapon to a TL 11 weapon etc), and I'm not sure how appropriate a nuclear tank would be in Psi-Wars.  On the one hand, I've never heard the words "nuclear missile" uttered in Star Wars, nor seen people lobbing around that kind of firepower in a tactical battle.  On the other hand, Star Wars doesn't think twice about blowing up planets, and Action heroes deal with nuclear threats all the time.  You defeat an Ogre through clever sabotate and hacking and spycraft and other Action-hero tricks, rather than just hitting it with superior firepower, so a Psi-Wars character could handle an Ogre.

Let's side-step that issue, though and build something more akin to the Super-Tank in Mass-Combat, which clocks in at around 50-100 tons.  The point here is to get a feel for how to do this, and what one might look like, rather than working out all the specific details.  The results look something like this.

Super Tank 300 -0.6 12 2/20 100
6 2S 2750/1250 20M 2CTt

1 Cargo (5 tons) 0
2-6 Armor-Diamondoid 1700 $5M

1 Cargo (5 tons) 0
2-6 Armor-Diamondoid 1700 $5M
Core Control Room $20k

1 Tracked Drivetrain (2 power points) 150k
2-6 Armor-Diamondoid 1700 $5M
Core Super Fusion Power-Plant $3M

I've chosen cargo instead of weapons because I'm going to load it up with my own gear.  This tank is SM +5 after you account for the Area/Volume rules from Pyramid, though I'd probably leave it at SM +6 to emphasize how much larger it is than the standard grav tank.  I'd also redistribute the armor.  If you do that, you can get a DR of 2750 on the front and top (the turret) and 1250 on all other points. (or 3000 on the front/top and 1000 or so on the side, etc)

For weapons, we're more than large enough to carry a few 400mm Cruise Missiles (Pyramid #3-27 Tech and Toys II, page 27).  4 would be five tons. A single fusion cannon would be 2.5 tons and deal an average of 1400 damage, enough to penetrate the sides of the tank.  A blaster cannon would deal 5dx20(5) or penetrate about 1750 DR, more than enough to get through its own sides, but unable to penetrate the front and weighs just 2 tons.  We can take remaining weight and add additional sensors or stealth measures or smaller guns or what have you.

All in all, I find this more of a heavy tank than a super-tank.  The front can take a 100mm HEMP round without blinking, and if we say that it's EMA, even the sides can shrug off a 100mm HEMP hit.  It can also act as a distant artillery platform, firing off cruise-missiles (that could be nuclear-tipped, if we were so inclined) and in direct combat, it can fire weapons strong enough to rip through any tank more lightly armored than itself. That's pretty impressive, but it's nothing like that picture above, which would probably be more like SM +8 to +9, trundling land-ship full to the brim with fire-power and death and troops and such.  This vehicle carries just two people... still, it's enough to get an idea of what a "super-tank" might look like, and how we could use this process to scale up or down, as necessary.

Vehicle Design Tactic 4: The Real World, Eyeballed

People who don't play with Ultra-Tech have a real advantage: you can look at real-world numbers and fairly easily convert them into vehicular stats.  Only HT, Hand/SR and cost really defies easy conversion, and for those, you can use the above methods to guestimate costs.  I'd go through exactly how to do all this, but I've already done so before, complete with an example, previous.


So we have the tools necessary to build up at least a rough approximation of any major war engine we might think of.  I've also established that there's necessarily more to a faction than just their soldiers.  How they go to war and with what equipment also matters a great deal, so it's worth getting into.  I'm not going to do that here, because doing so would take me at least as long as it did to write up all of those mooks in the last iteration.  It's a worthy goal, but something I should do when I'm more focused on specific setting, so I'll save it for Iteration 6.

Nonetheless, I'd say investigating Mass Combat proved fruitful, as it gave showed us the holes in our military doctrines and what vehicles we could use to plug them.

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