Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Space Combat Techniques for Action Vehicular Combat

The ship styles need another look given the action vehicular combat update.
-Christopher Almquist

In previous iterations of Psi-Wars, I had used the default GURPS Spaceships system. When it came to differentiating fighter aces, officers and smugglers more finely with techniques, I had only to to use the techniques defined in GURPS Spaceships 4, and perhaps add a couple of my own. With the switch to the Chase rules, this became more complicated, as I had to define my own techniques, as Patron Christoper Almquist has tirelessly pointed out.

But do I even need techniques? I asked myself that question every time Chris pointed out its absence. On the one hand, I strongly believe that a group should all be able to operate as the same template and “feel different,” or the template is too narrow. A classic way to do that with, for example, Fighter Aces is to add techniques, in the same way that adding techniques to Space Knights helps differentiate their force sword abilities.

On the other hand, space doesn’t come up that much. How much it comes up will depend on the campaign: one might make it the center of their campaign, but that’s far from a sure thing. On a more planet-focused campaign, a fighter ace will twiddle their thumbs most of the time, while a smuggler usually at least has their underworld connections and their natural deception going for them. The more I encourage players to invest in space, the more likely they are to feel sidelined if space doesn’t come up. They can get around this by not playing space-based characters, but Psi-Wars, like most Space Opera, tends to zig and zag through settings, so I expect most campaigns will have fighter-based characters that get a chance to fly and fight sometimes.

(Incidentally, I’m not the only one to have this concern about fighter aces. SalsatheGeek played a fighter ace in Tinker Titan Rebel Spy intentionally, not just to see how they handled in space, but also planetside, and Patron Nemoricus has routinely recommended Wraith Squadron to me, precisely because it’s a series about fighter aces who double as commandos and spies).

So I left the question to my Patrons in a snap poll, to get a feeling for what they want. They voted, 2 to 1, for elaborate and detailed techniques, with the other third voting for simpler techniques. Nobody voted against techniques, or even shrugged at the question. So clearly the people who invest in Psi-Wars want techniques, and they don’t mind them being highly detailed.

I find myself balking at Space Combat Styles, though. I’ve had them before, more as a guide for myself, a way of thinking about fighters, and I think, broadly speaking, there’s still room in my design space for thinking about how fighters approach space combat in terms of styles. Imperial Fighters tend to operate differently than Alliance fighters, who operate differently from pirates, and strike pilots tend to operate differently from dogfighters. That said, I hesitate to formalize them in the form of styles. Once a game has a style and numerous power-ups, certain players will be tempted to invest heavily. This is the intent behind styles. If Kung Fu exists in a game, then this sort of player will want to master it, and perhaps a few additional side-styles, and then compare and contrast their style with others. This fits into force swordsmanship wonderfully, but if we add it to fighter aces, then, once again, we have characters who want to dump all of their points in space, when we want to encourage fighter aces and smugglers to at least think about generalization a little.

We can also handle “space combat styles” by building them into specific templates. Quick, what do you call a corvette pilot that emphasizes evasion, deception and speed over aggression and attack? That’s right, a smuggler. And the opposite? A pirate. This follows how GURPS Action 3: Furious Fists handles “styles,” by breaking up your martial artists into “Fast, Strong, Weapons and Ninja.” We still run into a problem with the Fighter Ace and the Officer, in that they legitimately have some unique approaches (the heroic, leadership-oriented Officer should feel different from the brutal, “nuke them all and let God sort it out” Officer) that can be broken up along sub-divisions, but this might be better handled by discussing lenses, rather than introducing complete styles.

Avoiding a deeper work into space combat styles also works well for a first revision. I need to come up with techniques for the new rules, and so twenty or so should be a good start (and I already have ideas for a few more). Given the appreciation my patrons have shown for more complex techniques, we can proliferate a bit past the five or so in the original Spaceships rules, and see how things go. This is not a “final decision,” nothing ever is when you take an iterative approach to game design, but I’ll definitely be watching this space to see if it can tolerate more complexity.



What Sort of Techniques

I originally stumbled across this technique problem when looking at the Smuggler, who has some techniques. Thus, designing techniques for the smuggler became my first priority, but I found myself looking at other templates at least superficially.

Piloting

Piloting (and, to a lesser extent, Shiphandling) dominated my initial look. When people talk about space combat techniques, what they usually mean are “starfighter maneuvers.” Originally, this included “Aggressive Maneuvers, Defensive Maneuvers, Ambush, Escape and Reverse,” but these have shifted given the nature of the Chase rules. Aggressive and Defensive (now Evasive) maneuvers are too close to the base usage of Piloting in the Chase rules to really warrant a technique (though I have made one, to allow for Technique Mastery). Given that patrons have asked for more complex maneuvers, I have taken the opportunity to allow players to do more specific things that speak to the new, more cinematic nature of space combat, such as hugging close to asteroids to force another pilot to crash, or diving sideways through a narrow canyon, or performing some crazy, “all out” attack. I’ve also reintroduced Reverse as a subset of Move.

Gunnery and Artillery

While piloting might be what people think of when they talk about starfighter maneuvers, the ability to hit your target is just as important. These have always been easy for me, because you can just crib from Gun Fu and apply it to gunnery. A lot of the original techniques made it through, with a few new ones that take advantage of the more chase-oriented nature of the game.

ECM

It turns out ECM has all sorts of possible options. You can jam communications, you can jam missiles, you can hide your signature, you can spoof a target, you can trick sensors about what’s in your holds. So, I had some techniques draft ideas sketched out, but I’ve ditched them, at least for now. The problem that I see here is that techniques should in principle be able to proliferate well beyond your ability to buy them. The point of a technique is not just to specialize your skill, but to do so in a way that seperates it from hundreds of possible combinations. Unarmed techniques are a great example, as you can fill up handful of reasonable techniques with unarmed fist strikes without ever touching kicks or grapples. The problem here is that while I can come up with 6 or so things you can do with ECM, I can only come up with 6 or so things for ECM, so that suggests you’re probably better off just being forced to raise ECM. Worse, most people who want one will want the others too: if you want to jam missiles and spoof sensors, you probably want to cut off communications and hide what’s in your ship. So, I’ve set these aside for now until I can see real specialization forming.

Navigation

Navigation is in a similar situation to ECM in that I can think of quite a few things to do with it, but are they enough? In this case, yes, primarily because it makes sense to specialize by constellation. For example, smugglers of the Stygian Veil will be much better in the Veil than in the Maelstrom. This can be handled by Area Knowledge, but Area Knowledge is broader than just navigational routes. I can also think of plenty of cool tricks that navigators could use to improve their speed, find shortcuts, speed up their jumps, etc. This one is a little up in the air, especially what should be in techniques and what should be in perks, but for now, I’ll make techniques available.

Dreadnoughts

I’ve not put much work into Officer techniques, not because I don’t intend to have any, but because I worry about them when I get there. I think this is a fairly rich space, with options for Leadership, Tactics and Shiphandling and I’ll borrow a lot from my previous work on officers once we get to them. Thus, this is not yet a finished list.

Technique Proliferation

I’ve been using an optional rule for awhile, and I think it’s time to institute it in Psi-Wars officially, since it’s beginning to creep into my template design: I’ve halved the cost of techniques. The justification for this is that it brings them in line with Perks (1 point for +2 to a highly specific aspect of a skill, aka a Technique) and to allow for more techniques (instead of 3 techniques for Force Sword, you can swing 5-7),which is really important for force swordsman, but matters here. This may also explain why I’ve chosen not to create ECM techniques: 6 might sound like plenty when you can only really swing 3 at most, but it’s not nearly enough when you can swing 6+.

The Techniques

Afterburner Slide

Hard
Prerequisite:
Piloting. Piloted vehicle must have a Stall Speed and Afterburners.
Default: Piloting-4; cannot exceed prerequisite skill.

Most targeting systems, and enemy pilots, track the target based on their velocity and direction. If this changes rapidly or the angle of movement doesn’t match the facing of the craft, targeting systems fail to track the craft adequately. While making a Move and Attack or a Stunt or Stunt Escape, the pilot activates his afterburners and then cuts all engines suddenly and “rides” his inertia, swiveling to face a different direction while still flying along their primary vector. This applies a +2 to all Dodge rolls for the turn.

Aggressive Maneuvering

Average
Prerequisite:
Piloting or Shiphandling.
Default: Piloting or Shiphandling; cannot exceed prerequisite skill.

When making a non-static maneuver in a chase, roll Aggressive maneuvering in place of Piloting or Shiphandling when your vehicle pursues the target. This requires your front be pointed at the target, and you must choose to become Advantaged or shift range bands closer to your target.

Canyon Dive

Hard
Prerequisite:
Piloting.
Default: Piloting-5; cannot exceed prerequisite skill.

When confronted with a narrow space, the pilot orients their ship to present the narrowest cross-section to the obstacle (generally a crevice or alleyway). Treat the ship as one SM smaller for the purposes of bypassing an obstacle. This technique may be used as a Stunt or Stunt Escape, or to defeat an opponent who attempted a Mobility Escape. If used as a Stunt, it provides a +2 to Chase rolls.

This is a Cinematic Technique. Anyone can attempt it, but only Ace Pilots can improve it.

Collision Training

Hard
Prerequisite:
Piloting or Shiphandling.
Default:
Piloting or Shiphandling; cannot exceed prerequisite skill+4.

When performing a Ram or Force maneuver or making a Boarding Action in action vehicular combat, use the Ram technique in place of Piloting or Shiphandling.

(Constellation) Navigator

Average
Prerequisite:
Navigation (Hyperspace).
Default:
Navigation (Hyperspace); cannot exceed prerequisite skill+5.

The character has learned the ins and outs of one specific constellation. When attempting to navigate that specific constellation, they may remove up to half of all penalties for any navigation roll.

Driving Fire

Hard
Prerequisite:
Gunner.
Default:
Gunner-2; cannot exceed prerequisite skill.

The character attacks the target in just such a way that their attacks miss in a specific way, forcing a target in a desired direction. The character states their intention with their attacks (“I want to push him closer into the asteroids” or “I want to drive him towards my wingman”) makes the attack as normal, and for every hit the character would have made, the target instead has a -1 to any piloting or driving rolls that violate the stated intention. The target can ignore this penalty but must then defend against the attacks at -2 to defense.

Evasive Maneuvering

Average
Prerequisite:
Piloting or Shiphandling.
Default: Piloting or Shiphandling; cannot exceed prerequisite skill.

When making a non-static maneuver in a chase, roll Evasive Maneuvering in place of Piloting or Shiphandling when your vehicle evades the target. This requires your back be pointed at the target, and you must choose to become Advantaged or shift range bands away from your pursuers.

Fast Locking

Hard
Prerequisite:
Artillery.
Default: Prerequisite skill -4 (or -2 for Ace Pilots); cannot exceed prerequisite skill.

An action vehicular combat turn is a minute long, during which multiple possible missile locks is certainly possible! A character who has mastered fast-locking has learned to respond immediately to a missile lock, allowing him to fire more often than normal. He may use Fast Locking to fire a second missile, or two additional missiles with +1 Recoil. If the character chooses to engage multiple targets this way, apply an additional -6 per target!

Ghosting

Hard
Prerequisite:
Piloting or Shiphandling.
Default: Piloting-5 or Shiphandling-5; cannot exceed prerequisite skill.

Ultrascanners rely on the size of the sensor profile to differentiate a target from background noise. Skilled pilots can fly their ship so as to minimize their profile towards their target, generally flying “edge on.” This improves the vehicle’s ECM rating by -2 against a single target (or a single formation) only.

This is a Cinematic Technique. Anyone can attempt it, but only Ace Pilots can improve it (and they may not improve it for Shiphandling!).

Hugging

Hard
Prerequisite:
Piloting.
Default: Piloting; cannot exceed prerequisite skill+4.

Your character is exceptionally skilled at flying close to ships or obstacles without hitting them. When making any maneuvers while hugging a craft, add the bonus from this technique to the piloting roll. Furthermore, during a Stunt or Stunt Escape maneuver near obstacles, every -2 applies to your stunt also applies a -1 to your stability and to your opponent’s stability, up to a maximum of -4 to Stability; while doing so, apply your Hugging bonus to your Pilot roll. This represents moving closer and closer to obstacles as well as forcing your opponent to do the same until the margins for error become very thin.

Quick Salvo

Hard
Prerequisite:
Gunner or Artillery.
Default: Prerequisite skill -6 (or -3 for Ace Pilots); cannot exceed prerequisite skill.

The character can target multiple opponents or fire multiple systems. The number of attacks cannot exceed the total RoF of all weapons onboard the ship. Quick Salvo applies to firing both ones blasters and a missile, or dividing up ROF among several targets.

This is a Cinematic Technique. Anyone can attempt it, but only Ace Pilots can improve it.

Reacquire Target

Hard
Prerequisite:
Artillery.
Default: Prerequisite skill -6; cannot exceed prerequisite skill.

An Action Vehicular Combat turn takes a whole minute, and a great deal can happen in that minute. Missiles that miss can remain “active” and attack a target a second time, provided it has fuel and it doesn’t fly too wide of the target. When making a Reacquire Target attack with a guided missile, the attacker fires their missile in such a way that it their opponent dodges or jams it, it’s highly likely to hit a second target, or have time to reacquire the original target for a second pass. If the attack roll succeeds but the target defends, the attacker may make a second attack with the same missile against the same target or a different target. Apply the -6 for the technique to both attacks. The second attack inevitably comes from a strange angle and applies a -2 to defend against.

This is a Cinematic Technique. Anyone can attempt it, but only Ace Pilots can improve it.

Reckless Assault

Hard
Prerequisite:
Piloting.
Default: Piloting-8; cannot exceed prerequisite skill.

This technique comes with numerous names (the Maniac Maneuver, the Last Hope, the Charge of the Elegans), but in all cases it represents a total commitment to attacking a target. This requires a Move and Attack maneuver and a separate Reckless Assault roll. On a failure, the character immediately suffers a Wipeout. On a success, the character gains +4 to any attacks against a single, chosen target, and +3 to the subsequent Chase roll. In all cases, the character cannot dodge for the whole of this round.

This is a Cinematic Technique. Anyone can attempt it, but only Ace Pilots can improve it.

Reverse

Hard
Prerequisite:
Piloting; a vehicle with a stall speed.
Default: Piloting-10; cannot exceed prerequisite skill-5.

This technique has numerous names and techniques (the Inversion, the Barrel Roll, the Denjuku Turn), but they all serve as a means to immediately close in on a pursuer, using their own speed against them. Making a Reverse requires a Move maneuver and an independent Reverse technique roll. If this roll fails, the character immediately Wipes Out. On a success, they immediately become Advantaged against their opponent, with their front facing their target. Success or failure, at Distant range, the distance between both vehicles immediately drops to Extreme, and at Extreme or closer, the distance between both vehicles drops to Collision Range. This technique cannot be attempted with pursuers at Beyond Visual or farther. The results of the roll have no bearing on the Chase roll, which continues as normal and the winner of that roll may apply their results normally (it is possible with a Reverse for both targets to be Advantaged against one another! Such circumstances last for one turn, after which the loser of the Chase contest loses their Advantage).

This is a Cinematic Technique. Anyone can attempt it, but only Ace Pilots can improve it.

Shake

Hard
Prerequisite:
Piloting.
Default: Piloting-5; cannot exceed prerequisite skill.

Starships can attempt to “shed” a target lock by shifting their directions quickly and, especially, ensuring that their tails aren’t directly facing their target, if possible. This allows the target to disrupt an opponent’s electronics with only their piloting skill. This technique requires a Move maneuver, and applies a +1 to Chase rolls to escape the target; furthermore, the character can make a free Piloting roll in place of Electronics Operations (EM) to disrupt a single pursuer’s target lock or to jam a single missile.

Skipjacking

Hard
Prerequisite:
Artillery.
Default: Prerequisite skill -5; cannot exceed prerequisite skill.

A missile is self-guided and self-propelled, and will thus orient itself towards the target no matter how it’s fired. However, some pilots have mastered the art of firing a missile in such a way that its jets fire later than expected, or it arks in some unusual way to hit its target from an unusual angle. Against an opponent who has never seen a skipjack before, this counts as a surprise attack and cannot be defended against. Against all other opponents, this applies a -2 to defense, similar to a runaround attack, and -2 to hit with point defense.

Stealthy Maneuvering

Hard
Prerequisite:
Piloting or Shiphandling; Stealth or Smuggling.
Default: Piloting or Shiphandling; cannot exceed prerequisite skill +4.

When making a Hide maneuver in Action Vehicular Combat, roll this technique. Additionally, when rolling Smuggling or the lower of your Pilot or Stealth to see if you can avoid detection, improve the lowest of the involved skills by the difference between Stealthy Maneuvering bonus.

Storm Rider

Hard
Prerequisite:
Navigation (Hyperspace).
Default:
Navigation (Hyperspace); cannot exceed prerequisite skill+4.

Navigators dread few things as much as a Hyperspatial storm; however, experienced navigators know that the forces involved can greatly thin the hyperdynamic medium and propel ships! If the navigator suffers penalties from a hyperspace storm, they may increase the penalties up to double the penalty for the storm to a maximum of -4. For every -2 applied to their navigation roll this way, they increase their effective hyperspace drive rating by 1; hyperspace drives with a rating of 4 travel at 80 parsecs per hour, and those with a 5 travel at 160 parsecs per hour.

Targeted Attack (Gunnery)

Hard
Prerequisite:
Gunner (Beams or Torpedo).
Default:
Gunner (Beams or Torpedo)-5; cannot exceed prerequisite skill-3.

The character has learned how to hit a specific location on a ship. The most common is an armor gap, but the character can choose any specific subsystem when purchasing this technique; if the character successfully hits that subsystem, if the ships wounds result in a disabled or destroyed system, if always affects the targeted subsystem rather than a random one. The default for a specific hit location on a ship is -5, and the character can remove no more than half of these penalties. Targeted attacks can only affect Gunnery systems, not artillery systems (such as guided missiles); those hit what they hit.

Weave

Hard
Prerequisite:
Piloting.
Default: Piloting-3; cannot exceed prerequisite skill.

Some fighter pilots learn to maneuver with a wingman in such a way as to tempt the opponent fighter to pursue them in a movement that will bring them directly into the sights of their wingman. This technique requires a simple Move maneuver; anyone who pursues you suffers a -1 to their Dodge against any other fighters and an additional -1 per margin of victory in the final Chase contest; however, you may not gain Advantage or Shift Range Bands in any direction if you win.

Well Diver

Average
Prerequisite:
Navigation (Hyperspace).
Default:
Navigation (Hyperspace); cannot exceed prerequisite skill+5.

A ship shunts into real-space typically one planetary radius from their destination world, but navigators can learn to compensate for the effects of a gravity well and shunt closer to the world. For every level of Well-Diver, eliminate -1 in penalties for coming out “too close” to a world.

Winding Course

Average
Prerequisite:
Navigation (Hyperspace).
Default:
Navigation (Hyperspace); cannot exceed prerequisite skill+5.

Most navigators treat their hypersatial route as a direct jump, focusing on the straightest path through 4D space possible. This, however, makes a target’s course easy to track by those in real-space, who need only note the direction in which you travel to guess at your final destination. However, one can maneuver in hyperspace. Those who take a Winding Course can apply an additional penalty to their Navigation roll: for every -1 they apply, add +10% travel time and apply a -1 to any attempt to guess your final destination. The Winding Course technique reduces these final penalties by up to half.

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