Friday, August 31, 2018

Dogfighting 3 - A multi-party dogfight


So far, I’ve handled dogfights “as the rules are” between two fighters, go get a feel for the rules; between a fighter and a tank; to see how the rules handle a fighter vs a relatively static target; finally, I want to tackle how the Chase rules handle multi-party chases. This is where I crashed and burned before. This time around, I chose to approach it more slowly and methodically, to understand everything else around the system before I approach this. It’s critical that this works, because Psi-Wars is never going to be static one-on-one fights; instead, it’s going to be swooping, gnarled, fiery furballs of fighters with fellow pilots crying out “I can’t shake him!” and heroic fighter aces tackling whole squadrons of enemy fighters. If the Chase rules can’t handle that, then we have no business using them.

We’re also going to do something else a little different: We’re going to use biplanes this time around. Some people have suggested that biplanes are a better model for Psi-Wars than modern fighters. Maybe that’s true. What’s certainly true is that the Chase rules should be able to handle biplanes, and that biplanes are different from what we’ve messed with before. By trying them out, we can check their suitability, and learn some things about how the chase rules are constructed and how they work.



The Craft

Rather than use the figher jets from the last two dogfights, let’s try our hand with biplanes, and we’ll need several.

Our heroes, the British Ace, Chad Goodwick and his trusty companion, Melvin Fobsworth, will fly Sopwith Camels. These are classic British fighter biplanes; they have the Vickers mark II (6d+2, Acc 6, Range 800/3,3000 ROF 10! (+2 to hit)). Like with the dogfighting rules, we’ll assume for now that we don’t have to worry about the bulk of the weapon while moving and attack.ing. Chad Goodwick has Pilot-18 and Gunner-16, like usual. Fobsworth is less capable, and has overall skills of 15. The Sopwith camel has a handling of +1 and its max speed gives it a bonus of +6.

His enemy will be the nefarious Brutus Hasslefhoff, a competent gunner and bomber. He has Gunner-18, Artillery (Bomb) and Pilot-16. He seeks to drop bombs on the delicate French coast, where Chad’s lady love, Stacey Wellington, picnics. He is flying a Junkers J.I , found in High-Tech page 233. It has an HP of 65, a handling/SR of 0/3, a top move of 38, an SM of +4, a DR of 15 (!) and has a forward mounted Maxim LMG08/15 (7d+1 damage, Acc 6, Range 1000,33/400, ROF 7! (+1 to hit)) and a “flexible” DMB LG14 Parabellum (7d+1 damage, Acc 6, Range 1000,33/400, ROF 11!) in the “observer” seat behind the pilot, where one of Hasslehoff’s minions sits. This gun can be fired in any direction. His bomb load out is irrelevant: it’s enough to destroy poor Stacey and her dainty picnic. The Junkers J.I has a handling of +0 and its max speed gives it a bonus of +6.

Hasslehoff has two Albatross D.II escorts. They also have forward mounted LGM08/15 machine guns. The Albatross D.II has a handling of +0 and its max speed gives it a bonus of +6.

The Fight

The first question is: how far do we start them out? Dogfights normally start “beyond visual distance,” but that simply makes no sense here. Even Distant might be too far. You can see the spots on the horizon, but you can’t really do anything. It seems reasonable to argue that the fighters should be in range of one another; Extreme seems our best bet, at least for starting out. It applies a -15 to hit, and note that our fighters don’t have radar or anything. At skill 14, with our rate of fire, we have a reasonable chance of hitting our target at Short Range; if we add our accuracy of +6, on average, then we’ll hit reasonably at Medium, and perhaps even Long, though I’m not sure how one would add accuracy, but we’ll see. Extreme seems a good enough value for now.

Turn 1: Extreme

Step 1: Quarry Chooses Maneuver

Step 2: Pursuer Chooses Maneuver

So here we are, at the first core crux of our chase. Who is the pursuer and who is the chaser. The most likely scenario is something like this: Hasslehof and his escort are on their way to blow up Stacey, when Chad spots them in the distance and gives chase. Thus, Chad and Mr. Fobsworth are the pursuer while Hasslehof is the quarry.

This model is simple enough and is, in fact, a classic chase. Action 2 suggests that each group select a leader, and that leader makes the roll. Thus, it’s Hasslehoff vs Chad, with Hasslehof’s escort’s and Mr. Fobsworth’s results dependent on their leaders respectively. This has some potential problems, like what happens if it’s Chad, Mr. Fobsworth, and Private Joe, a footman down below. Can he use their “roll,” and keep with the other fighters on foot? Not likely, but this is not a concern for our current fighters, and Action suggests that groups will naturally break down into similar mobility levels.

So, Hasslehoff and his minions choose “Move,” while the gunner-minion, as a passenger, will choose to Attack (using a passenger attack).

Chad and Mr. Fobsworth choose Move.

Step 3: Resolve Pursuer Rolls
Chad and Mr. Fobsworth have no special roll.

Step 4: Resolve Quarry Rolls
Hasslehoff and his escort have no special rolls. His gunner-minion can swing his gun around behind, and open fire on Chad and his escort. We’ll fire on Chad.

  • Gunner 14

  • Passenger on a vehicle: -1

  • ROF: +1

  • Range -15

  • Target SM +3

Hmmm, those are terrible odds. While the Chase rules don’t mention it anywhere I can see, I would imagine a player might ask “Can I aim?” That’s a tricky question as, for chase maneuvers, you need to stop and make an “Attack,” but this is a passenger. Can they aim? It seems possible, but I believe they lose all of their aim bonus if they dodge, and his total bonus cannot exceed the stability of the bomber (3).

Step 5: Resolve Chase Contest
Chad, as leader, has Pilot-18, Handling +1 and a speed bonus of +6. Hasslehoff, as leader, has Pilot-16, Handling +0, and Speed bonus of +6. This is thus a quick contest of 25 vs 22. Both roll an 11, which means Chad beats Hasslehoff by 3, which means there is no change in distance: Hasslehof is not escaping, but nor is Chad closing. We stand at an impasse.

Turn 2: Extreme;

Step 1: Quarry Chooses Maneuver
Not much has changed. For now, let’s continue to Move, trying to evade/lose Chad and bomb poor Stacey into oblivion. Our gunner, however, is going to open fire (this time for real)

Step 2: Pursuer Chooses Maneuver
A straight chase, with our current rolls, is just not going to do it. We need to find some way to cut in closer. Now, in principle, this sounds like a straight chase, but we might imagine some tall buildings or some rough terrain. Chad chooses to short-cut through some of that rough terrain, spinning and swooping to get at Hasslehoff he gets to sweet Stacey: a stunt! At skill 18, he could reasonably apply a -6 with a solid chance of success, but Mr. Fobsworth would be unable to keep up with that, so we’ll go with a simpler and more stately -4.

Step 3: Resolve Pursuer Rolls
Per Action, all characters in the “group” must make the stunt roll themselves. For Chad, this is a simple 14 or less, but for Mr. Fobsworth, this is a far trickier 11. Chad passes casually with a 10, but Mr. Fobsworth, while making it through the entire course, manages to lose control of his Sopwith with a roll of 11: he gets out, but his craft has begun to spin out of control!

Step 4: Resolve Quarry Rolls
Hasslehoff and his escort, again, have no special rolls, but his gunner has finished aiming, and takes his shot just as the two escape from their stunt. He chooses Chad as his target..

  • Gunner 14

  • Passenger on a vehicle: -1

  • ROF: +1

  • Range -15

  • Target SM +3

  • Acc +3 (+6, in fact, but his weapon is not stabilized).

He will hit on a 5 or less, and rolls a ten. Chad hears the reports of the shots, and sees some cinematic tracer rounds erupting from Hasslehoff’s bomber, but is in no serious danger.

Step 5: Resolve Chase Contest
Mr. Fobsworth may be in the midst of a wipeout but per the rules, both may still participate in the chase. Chad, as leader, has Pilot-18, Handling +1, a speed bonus of +6 and a stunt bonus of +2. Hasslehoff, as leader, has Pilot-16, Handling +0, and Speed bonus of +6 (his passenger fired, but that doesn’t count as a Move and Attack for Hassleholf). This is thus a quick contest of 27 vs 22. Chad rolls a 7 and Hasslehof rolls a 17! How lucky for Chad! This is a difference of 15 (Hasslehoff didn’t critically fail, as he has an effective skill of 17+, but I’m curious what a critical failure in a chase roll would look like; a wipeout?). Chad closes from Extreme past Long and into Medium. A good trick!

Turn 3: Medium; Mr. Fobsworth needs to either make an Emergency Action or Stop.

Step 1: Quarry Chooses Maneuver
Chad is too close for comfort and could open fire soon. Hasslehoff waves his minions to turn and give pursuit. This leads to our next possible complication: We can have a chase of “three.” The fighter minions will chase Chad, and Chad will chase Hasslehoff.

Step 2: Pursuer Chooses Maneuver
In principle, Chad could just abandon Mr. Fobsworth, but he’s close enough now that they should be able to recover without too much loss of ground. Chad chooses an emergency action and dives to shout advice at Mr. Fobsworth

Note: It would be interesting to see how this would play out if he didn’t. We can break up groups, of course, and ultimately, we may need to; it adds additional complexity to the abstract system of chases that’s more intuitively handled by maps and tactical combat, but I think it could handle it. My main question is, if you feel behind, how would you rejoin a group?
The escort are now chasing Chad, who is their quarry, so after he chooses his result, they choose their own, and that’s a reverse.
Step 3: Resolve Pursuer Rolls
The Escort needs to special rolls.

Mr. Fobsworth needs no special roll.

Step 4: Resolve Quarry Rolls
Once more, the gunner minion opens fire, and given Chad’s proximity, has a good chance of hitting! He’ll shoot at Melvin, who’s already in trouble.

  • Gunner 14

  • Passenger on a vehicle: -1

  • ROF: +1

  • Range -7

  • Target SM +3

He will hit on a 10 or less, and rolls an eight, which hits twice. Mr. Fobsworth has a dodge of 8, and rolls a 14… Uh oh. Both shots hit for a total of 58 damage (after DR). After an HT check (the Sopwith is flammable) that fails with an 11, Mr. Fobsworth’s biplane bursts into flame. So he’s tumbling, on fire, and with a damaged craft, but at least he’s not dead yet. He will need to roll every turn to remain functional, however.

Step 5: Resolve Chase Contest
Chad, as leader, has Pilot-18, Handling +1, a speed bonus of +6 and a -5 because he’s in the midst of an Emergency Action. Hasslehoff has Pilot-16, Handling +0, and Speed bonus of +6. The Escorts have a skill of 1, Handling of +1, and Speed of +6 and -10 from their reverse. This is thus a quick contest of 20 vs 22 and 20 vs 10. Chad rolls an 11 (success by 9) and Hasslehof rolls a 5 (success by 17)! Hasslehoff is able to pull away by 1 band, from Medium to Long. The second chase has Chad rolling a 10 (success by 10) and his pursuers by 9 (success by 1). That means that Chad can pull one range band away from them too, pushing them out to Long.

Turn 4: Long between Hasslehoff and Chad and Long between Chad and the Escorts; Mr. Fobsworth has control of his craft, but must make an HT roll every turn.

Step 1: Quarry Chooses Maneuver
Hasslehof keeps moving. Mr. Fobsworth chooses to “depart” from the fight, and goes for a Stop, to land in a nearby field.

Step 2: Pursuer Chooses Maneuver
Chad chooses to Move and Attack Hasslehof. We’ll allow this because Hasslehof is expanding the range between them. Chad, per the dogfighting rules, also may not attack the Escorts, as he moved away from them.

The Escorts did not win the contest and may not open fire on Chad. They choose a stunt (-2) to try to regain position on him.

Note: Is this all legit? I’m not sure. GURPS Vehicles and Spaceships both talk about “aspects” and that might allow for clearer way to explain who is facing who.
Step 3: Resolve Pursuer Rolls
The Escorts must make their stunt roll (both of them), on a 12 or less. Amusingly they both roll a 12 and a 15, which means no bonus for them and they’re out of control.

Chad opens fire on Hasslehoff. Make it count, Chad!

  • Chad has a Gunnery of 16

  • ROF +2

  • SM +4

  • Range -11

He needs an 11 or less to hit. He rolls a 9, which means he hits twice. Hasslehoff needs to dodge and he has a dodge of 9. He rolls a 13 and is hit both times. The Vickers do a more modest amount of damage (6d+2) and the Junkers J.I is well armored, so after DR, the total damage is 11, out of Hasslehof’s considerable 65 HP. This is not a “Major wound,” so the vehicle will not catch fire. Nonetheless, there are now some holes in the canvas wings and some dings in the armor. Those Junkers are tough!

Step 4: Resolve Quarry Rolls
The gunner opens fire on Chad

  • Gunner 14

  • Passenger on a vehicle: -1

  • ROF: +1

  • Range -11

  • Target SM +3

He will hit on a 6 or less, and rolls an 8.

Melvin needs to roll a 9 or less to keep his plane functional long enough to land. He rolls a 15. Rest in Peace, Mr. Fobsworth.

Step 5: Resolve Chase Contest
Chad has Pilot-18, Handling +1, a speed bonus of +6 and a -2 for moving and attacking. Hasslehoff has Pilot-16, Handling +0, and Speed bonus of +6. The Escorts have a skill of 1, Handling of +1, and Speed of +6. This is thus a quick contest of 23 vs 22 and 23 vs 20. Chad rolls a 12 (success by 11) and Hasslehof rolls a 7 (success by 13)! Hasslehoff wins, but is unable to pull away. The second chase has Chad rolling a 9 (success by 14) and his pursuers by 9 (success by 11). They continue to pursue him, but neither gains or loses ground.

Note: We’re in a proper chase. If we treat this as a dogfight, then Hasslehof can fire at Chad and Chad can fire at the escorts. I find it interesting that, given the scenario, we find ourselves breaking those rules, which suggests that Dogfighting either isn’t complete or should be treated as a companion to Chase, which is more likely.
But let’s treat it like a dogfight.

Turn 5: Long between Hasslehoff and Chad and Long between Chad and the Escorts; Hasslehoff has 54/65 HP.

Step 1: Quarry Chooses Maneuver
We’re going to treat this as a proper dogfight now, presuming that Hasslehof turns to get Chad in his sights and that Chad’s maneuvers have gotten him behind the escorts, or at least out of their line of fire.

That means the escorts must choose first, and they choose to Move, trying to gain on Chad.

Chad chooses to Stunt move against Hasslehof

Step 2: Pursuer Chooses Maneuver
Hasslehof chooses to Move and Attack against Chad.
Step 3: Resolve Pursuer Rolls
Hasslehoff opens fire on Chad.

  • Hasslehoff has a Gunnery of 18

  • ROF +1

  • SM +3

  • Range -11

He needs an 11 or less to hit, and rolls a 13 and misses.

His minion opens fire too, but needs a 6 or less to hit and rolls an 8.

Step 4: Resolve Quarry Rolls
Chad stunts at -6, needing a 12 or less to get behind Hasslehoff. He rolls a 9 and succeeds.

The escorts have no special rolls.

Step 5: Resolve Chase Contest
Chad has Pilot-18, Handling +1, a speed bonus of +6 and a +3 from his stunt. Hasslehoff has Pilot-16, Handling +0, and Speed bonus of +6 and a -2 from move and attack. The Escorts have a skill of 14, Handling of +1, and Speed of +6. This is thus a quick contest of 28 vs 20 and 25 vs 20. Chad rolls a 10 (success by 18) and Hasslehof rolls a 7 (success by 13). Chad wins by 5, and can close to Medium. The second chase has Chad rolling an 11 (success by 14) and his pursuers by 7 (success by 13). Chad remains out of their arc of fire.

Turn 6: Medium between Hasslehoff and Chad and Long between Chad and the Escorts; Hasslehoff has 54/65 HP.

Step 1: Quarry Chooses Maneuver
Hasslehof is once again quarry, and makes a Move.

The Escorts also seek to gain the advantage on Chad and Move.

Step 2: Pursuer Chooses Maneuver
Chad has Hasslehoff right where he wants him and makes a Move and Attack.
Step 3: Resolve Pursuer Rolls
Chad opens fire on Hasslehoff.

  • Chad has a Gunnery of 16

  • ROF +2

  • SM +4

  • Range -7

He needs an 15 or less to hit, and rolls a 8 and hits 4 times. Hasslehoff has a dodge of 9 and rolls an 11 and is hit. If we hit on the sides, we do a total, after the DR of 15, of 25 damage. This is not enough to ignite the Junker, or to even force it to make any sort of check. If we had attacked “from above,” the Junker only has DR 5 from the “top,” and the Chase rules don’t really seem to have any model that allows us to choose where we attack (another item that suggests we need to work out facing). If we had, we would have dealt 65 damage, which would have forced the Junker down and possibly destroyed it.

Step 4: Resolve Quarry Rolls
Neither quarry has any special rolls to make, though the gunner minion can fire at Chad. He needs a 10 or less, and rolls a 7, hitting twice. Chad has a dodge of 10 (skill 18 = 9, +1 combat reflexes, +1 from handling) and rolls an 8, dodging both hits.

Step 5: Resolve Chase Contest
Chad has Pilot-18, Handling +1, a speed bonus of +6 and a -2 from his move and attack. Hasslehoff has Pilot-16, Handling +0, and Speed bonus of +6. The Escorts have a skill of 14, Handling of +1, and Speed of +6. This is thus a quick contest of 23 vs 20 and 23 vs 20. Chad rolls a 9 (success by 14) and Hasslehof rolls a 12 (success by 8). Chad wins by 5, and can close to Short, though by that point speed matters more than range for penalties. The second chase has Chad rolling an 11 (success by 12) and his pursuers by 7 (success by 13). Chad enters their arc of fire.

Postscript

I’m going to stop here. If Chad fired from short, he’d have a -6 rather than -7, and would probably hit 4-5 times, and get Hasslehoff under his 0 HP, forcing him to check for functionality and probably falling out of the sky. It seems obvious by this point that Chad could keep away from the escorts, and would inevitably take Hasslehoff out, unless the gunner in the back got a lucky shot into him. Stacey is saved! Probably!

It’s interesting how fragile the biplanes really are, unless well armored, and also interesting how much of a difference a few points of armor makes. That’s primarily because anti-air fire relies on volume rather than power, and this will likely be true of Psi-Wars as well.

It would have been nice if Melvin hadn’t crashed when he did. I wanted to dive into what happens when people break up into even more complicated fights, like if Melvin had tried to distract the escort. GURPS Vehicles has its own dogfighting system, and suggests that you break such fights off into their own sub-fights, which is, by implication, what Action also suggests (mainly when it discusses weird mixed chases).

I have to say, the multi-chasing here works pretty well, though I think some additional detail and discussion is needed, clarifying what exactly is going on and what you’re meant to do; I think I was able to figure it out well enough, but a novice might have a hard time understanding how the rules work just from the description in GURPS Action.

I must admit, I found the fight a little tedious towards the end. There’s quite a few subsystems that I see that amount to “roll against X until finished.” Was Chad going to catch Hasslehoff? Yes. He has +2 pilot and +1 handling. Roughly once every 2 rolls, he’s get a range band improvement. The only real obstacle was a chance shot from someone else that might take Chad out first. I’d rather see diverse skills and tactics come in play. In standard GURPS combat, depending on who you fight, you might dramatically change tactics. Against a high defense, low-skill opponent, you favor feints, but against a weak-but-dexterous opponent, you might favor beats, binds and close-range grappling/trapping. With slips, you can shift in front of an opponent and start backing them into a tactically interesting spot, while they try to set up some feint + combo to take you down before that can happen, or stall for time. I don’t see that sort of thing here in Dogfighting.

Now, with biplanes, I might throw up things like cloud cover, artillery fire, and high terrain that you have to dodge around. We don’t really have anything like that written into Chases or Dogfights, but nothing that forbids it either. This is harder with high-flying modern dogfights, but that’s not especially pertinent to Psi-Wars: we can introduce asteroids for terrain, nebulas for clouds, ion storms, solar winds, blah blah blah.

I’d also like to see some tactical options beyond “I fly, I shoot.” Where defensive evasion like in GURPS Space? That would give Chad a choice between throwing the escorts off and closing in on Hasslehoff. Multiple weapon systems would also break up the tedium: if missiles use a different “subsystem” to guns, then depending on your opponent, you can change tactics. It’d be nice if you could “win” with Gunnery or with Pilot or with some other skill. GURPS Spaceships gives the option of contributing with sensory skills or engineering or tactics. It might be nice to introduce those, particularly so you can have a variety of dogfighters, but I’ll get into that in another post, I think.

This fight showed that you can “dogfight” with a biplane. The main difference between biplanes and modern jet aircraft are that the latter are faster and have missiles. I don’t think I mind missiles so much. They need to be reigned in so they’re not the ultimate tactic (Psi-Wars dogfights should be primarily blaster-based), but they offer an option for an alternate sort of tactic (Dodge blasters, jam missiles) if handled correctly. The speed difference doesn’t seem to matter so much, other than that you can get a lot closer to your target with a biplane than with a modern jet fighter, mainly because speed makes a bigger difference. Could I slow down Psi-Wars fighters? Maybe. Do I need to? I’m not so sure.

It doesn’t surprise me that the Chase/Dogfight rules handled this well. The Chase rules were built to handle everything from foot chases to bicycles to speed boats to cars to jet fighters. It’s also clear that it sort of serves as a sort of abstract movement system for vehicular combat, which is what we’re really talking about, only we only have some of the tools to handle, as GURPS Action mostly deals with personal gun combat, and not, say, how tanks handle in a fight.





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