Friday, July 12, 2019

The Ridiculously Huge Action Vehicular Playtest Part III - The Aftermath

This is the finale of the Three Part playtest of the Action Vehicular Combat series.  See yesterday's post for the bulk of the actual "battle," and the day prior for additional context.  This mostly consists of a retrospective on what worked, what I had to change, and what I missed out on playtesting.

Aftermath

Dim lights illuminated the ruined hangar of the Blind Justice. Tobin’s Valiant carefully approached a cleaned-out area and landed, the last of the three pilots to board the ship, though numerous Valiants and Raptors awaited by circling the carrier.

Tobin climbed down the ladder from his cockpit, his legs stiff and sore from hours of waiting. He slowly worked his arm and grunted. Dun, still in his armor, sauntered up and offered him a cup of steaming, warm liquid, and slugged him on the shoulder.

“This isn’t Gristy sludge-wine is it?” Tobin sniffed but Dun just laughed “It’s safe.”

Tobin glanced at Starlet, who argued with a technician over the obvious, gaming damage on her Valiant, and then to Shiana, who watched them until she noticed that Tobin watched her in return, then she feigned a sudden loss of interest.

“So, we have a damaged artillery cruiser, a damaged carrier, and a wrecked dreadnought.” Tobin mused. “Congrats man, you got your first kill!”

“Capture.” Dun corrected. “And you?”

“I get to add 6 more marks to my Valiant.” Tobin grinned. “Lady Grimshaw can add a couple more. Starlet can add one.”

Dun nodded. “The dreadnought still has some hyperium on it. After we fix the fuel tanks, we plan on siphoning some from the wreckage, enough to let us limp home to a starport. We also need to process a lot of prisoners; the dreadnought had quite a few survivors.”

Tobin waited for him to finish, and then asked “When will the hangar be cleared?”

“Crews say it’ll be another hour at least.”

He cleared his throat and said “Well, the Lancers still have fuel, as do the Valiants and Raptors.”

Dun’s eyes narrowed.

“What do you mean?”

“We don’t need to carrier to get us to Cabala Scan. That’s where the Valorian Edict went, right? And we have nothing but time until they fix the Blind Justice. We could wait for the Empire to hit us again, or we could hit them first.”

“That sounds risky.”

“We can ask the Akashic what she thinks.”

Dun spread his hands and shrugged. “Let’s do it.”

Retrospective

The first and most important question: Can my Action Vehicular Rules handle a large scale battle like this?

Answer: Yes, sorta. How important is a huge battle like this to you anyway?

It did all the things it needed to do. Everyone had something to do. The fighter ace is leaps and bounds better than everyone else, but it’s possible to make, say, a space knight or bounty hunter who can at least contribute to space combat. That worked great. The officer had something to do, and while we neglected him a bit (mostly because I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on personal combat), in principle, Dun had a lot to do. In a real session, we probably would have played out more with him.

This would have been a very long session if played at the table, and pretty complicated (we could have made it more complicated!). This isn’t that uncommon in GURPS, though. If you ran a major military engagement on the ground, it would also take at least an hour to work out, more likely an entire session.

I faked/fudged a lot, but that had more to do with the scale of the battle than the actual rules. You could handle an entire battle like this, but it’s far too much work and not what the system is meant for. It’s meant to cover a few people having a chase/dogfight, and that’s mostly what we focused on. I think if I actually ran this at the tabletop, I’d fudge even more. If you really want to play out a massive engagement like this as more than just a backdrop for a few dogfights, then I would work out Mass Combat in Psi-Wars and run it that way. I don’t think that’s strictly necessary, any more than running a large battle in, say, DF requires you run Mass Combat or requires you to play out the rolls of mook orcs vs mook knights.

Capital ships work fine. The new damage system gives them a few turns before they die. Torpedoes are deadly: we’ve carefully re-engineered everything from “missiles are super dangerous” to “missiles are super dangerous.” Well done! But where a nuclear missile would have completely destroyed a dreadnought in a single blast before, it now takes waves of bombers a few turns to wipe out a dreadnought, which is an improvement. Capital ships matter, and are dangerous, and you can “run them,” and it works. They also take quite some time to die.

I could test Corvettes a bit better. In retrospect, a single Ronin would have been a nice addition, and it might be something to look into later. They’re very vulnerable to torpedoes, and a Lancer isn’t much against a fighter or a capital ship, but they did what they were supposed to, in sufficiently large numbers, they could make a serious dent on the enemy.

Fighters worked great, but we expected that (we’ve already tested them).

I’ve had to make a few adjustments to the rules, which I’ve noted in my latest incarnation of the rules. The major changes are:

  • Clarifying when a fighter can attack (making winning the chase contest strictly necessary, like in the standard Dogfighting rules)

  • Serious updates to the damage rules (mostly to eliminate “Tracking” damage, as the whole point of Conditional Injury is to know your “wound level” but not how much HP you still have)

  • Plasma Flak rules are now included.

I don’t think I’d run battles like this in Psi-Wars, though. I think they’d run more like Wing Commander: there’s no strict reason for a carrier to expose itself to dreadnoughts like this: better to launch fighters that go into hyperspace, hit their target, and then shunt back. If the carrier is “in system,” better to hit a target from a thousand miles away, rather than a hundred, lest you invite a punishing return salvo. It’s interesting to see that a remote attack from a couple of dreadnoughts wasn’t enough to make a real impact on the Blind Justice, but once the Reign of Fire got in range with its secondary turrets, it began to beat the hell out of the carrier. Even so, torpedoes > cannons. This means that dreadnoughts would likely prefer to attack from a similar distance as the carrier but, if pressed, could certainly ambush one and directly participate in its destruction.

So I think in the end I would run more “Wing Commander” scenarios of fighter v fighter, rather than letting cap ships slug it out too often. That does diminish the advantage of the Officer template, though tactical coordination gives him something to do, and their role is not just “Run capital ships.” They also help people plan their missions and make use of Foresight, so that should be okay.

That said, Psi-Wars needs to be able to handle this sort of fight, because it’s what a lot of players will expect. Just because, logically, you don’t unnecessarily expose your capital ships to fighters doesn’t mean people won’t and this playtest has proven that you can do that without having your capital ship one-shotted.

Raptors seem really good, but realistically, Javelins should outnumber than 10 to 1 or so, so they might go down a lot faster than they did in this scenario. I think an ace like Harkin would have a pretty good chance of taking one out, but it’d be a lot of work. They’re very much the “heavy fighter” type.

I’m satisfied with these results, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. The main things I’d like to see more of is piracy and corvettes vs fighters, but we’ll wait for Redjack before looking at that.

One thing I’ve wanted to do for awhile is make “cheat cards” for the various fighters, and man, they would have been handy here. You want to know what your DR is, what your handling is, what your total chase bonus is, what your HP is, and what sort of weapons you can put on target, and I think you could get all of it on, say, a 3×5 index card and then it’d be very quick to reference your stats in a fight. It’s probably more useful to a GM than to a player, but GURPS’ vehicle stats cover a lot more than just what’s strictly necessary for action vehicular combat, and it’d be nice to cut to the chase as how your vehicle fights.

All told, I think I feel safe updating the Action Vehicular Rules and uploading them to the wiki. Expect them there… when I find the time. I hope you enjoyed the playtest!

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