Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Are Battle Suits Fair: Part 2 -- The Playtest

 Last time I asked: Are Battlesuits Fair?  Mostly, I approached this question from a theoretical standpoint, you know, how most of us gamers complain that something is unbalanced without actually experiencing it in the game.  Without running the numbers, it's hard to know what will pop out.  Of course, I've played games with battlesuits, and they feel overpowered, but I never really put them in circumstances that really highlighted the imbalance.  What happens if one player wants to play a combat robot and the other a guy in a battlesuit? How bad is the disparity really?

So let's run those numbers and actually break down how well a battlesuit fairs against a combat robot and a generic commando.

The Characters

There are lots of ways we could make these characters.  We could ruthlessly optimize and see how all sides fair, but I really want to answer the question of whether or not a typical space opera character in a battlesuit wildly overpowers non-battlesuited counterparts in combat.  This creates a bit of a conundrum in that I'll assume these characters has some non-combat utility built in, but I won't be looking at the non-combat utility of the battlesuit vs those without one.  I think, though, that's fair.  Most people get up in arms that a battlesuit is so good in combat, not that it's so good at moving around heavy crates, or holding open doors in a heist, though in our final calculation we should at least consider this.

So where should we get our characters from?  Well, I'm going to use GURPS Template Toolkits 3: Spaceship Crew.  I could do something with GURPS Action, as there's a pyramid article on making making battle-suited characters with skillsets, but this is simpler, and it lets me work out a new book!

For the interest of brevity, I'll only include the barest necessary details of each character.

Security Officer (Trooper; Battlesuit Specialist)

150 points

This will be our generic character in a battlesuit.  If a battlesuit is as good as I think it is, then 150 poins should be enough to keep up with about 200-250 points of character.

Attributes: ST 11 [10]; DX 12 [40]; IQ 12 [40]; HT 11 [10]

Advantages: Combat Reflexes [15]; Hard to Subdue +1 [2]; Looks Good in Uniform [1]; Signature Gear (HMG + UBGL) [2]; Signature Gear (Heavy Battle Suit) [9]; Weapon Bond [1]

Skills: Gunner (HMG) (E) DX+3 [8]-15; Brawling (E) DX+2 [4]-14; Judo (H) DX [4]-12; Fast-Draw (Ammo) (E) DX [1]-12; Battlesuit (A) DX+2 [8]-14; Guns (Pistol) (E) DX [1]-12; Fast-Draw (Pistol) (E) DX [1]-12;


Heavy Battlesuit: DR 150/100, 150* lbs; Laminate EMA (double or what?); +1 SM; Tactical ESM (+1 dodge against locks); +20 ST, +2 Basic Move, Super Jump 1.

  • ST 31: Dmg 3d+2/63-1; BL 192;

  • No Encumbrance: Dodge 9; Move 8;

Helmet: DR 150/100, 15 lbs;

ETC Assault Cannon, 25mm: 15d pi++, Acc 4, Weight 75, RoF 8 (+2); Shots 34; Bulk -8; Rcl 2

  • HEMP: 6d×3 (10) cr in (~60 damage)

  • Shaped Charge: 5d×4 (10) cr inc (~70 damage)

Spare Clips (5 Assault Cannon clips): 60 lbs;

Security Officer (Commando; Combat Generalist)

250 points

This will be our generic combat character.  He'll represent the peak sort of character that should in principle dominate a fight against the battlesuit.

Attributes: ST 11 [10]; DX 14 [80]; IQ 12 [40]; HT 12 [20]

Advantages: Combat Reflexes [15]; Gunslinger [25];

Skills: Guns (Rifle) (E) DX+3 [8]-17; Karate (H) DX [4]-14; Judo (H) DX [4]-14; Fast-Draw (Ammo) (E) DX [1]-14; Vacc Suit (A) DX-1 [1]-13; Guns (Grenade Launcher) (E) DX+2 [4]-16; Artillery (Guided Missile) (A) IQ [2]-12; Fast-Draw (Pistol) (E) DX [1]-14; Guns (Pistol) (E) DX [1]-14;


Medium Encumbrance: -2 to Dodge (Dodge 9), 0.6 Basic move (4)

Combat Hardsuit: DR 75/45, 30 lbs

Combat Infantry Helmet: DR 27/18, 5 lbs;

Storm Carbine, 10mm: 10d pi++, Acc 4, Weight 8, RoF 10 (+2); Shots 50; Bulk -4; Rcl 3

  • APEP: 10d (3) pi+ (~35 damage)

UBGL 25mm: 4d pi++, Acc 4, Weight +1.5; RoF 1; ST 10; Rcl 3;

  • HEMP: 6d×3 (10) cr in (~60 damage)

  • Shaped Charge: 5d×4 (10) cr inc (~70 damage)

Spare Clips (5 storm carbine clips, 3 UBGL clips): 12.5 lbs;

Combat Robot

600 points (370-ish with Psi-Wars rules).

This is our TL 10-ish combat robot.  Now, as you'll clearly see, he's not about 4 times as powerful as our trooper, that's for sure.  But setting aside the fact that DR and ST are clearly broken for UT characters, we can apply some of my Psi-Wars house rules to try to fix that.  That might not be relevant for you, but this ultimately seeks to answer questions about how to handle things in Psi-Wars, so those house rules are relevant to me.

I added a few skills, the equivant of a "cross-class" Security Officer template to the combat robot to get its skills.

Attributes: ST 20 [0]; DX 14 [20]; IQ 10 [0]; HT 12 [0]

Advantages: TL 10 Combat Android [602]; Ambidexterity [5*]; Enhanced Time Sense [45*]; High Pain Threshold [10*];

Skills: Guns (Rifle) (E) DX+2 [4]-16; Brawling (E) DX+2 [4]-16; Wrestling (A) DX+1 [4]-15 Guns (Grenade Launcher) (E) DX [1]-14;


No Encumbrance: Dodge 10 Basic Move 6

Combat Hardsuit: DR 75/45, 30 lbs (+45; 120/90)

Combat Infantry Helmet: DR 27/18, 5 lbs; (+45) (72/63)

Storm Carbine, 10mm: 10d pi++, Acc 4, Weight 8, RoF 10 (+2); Shots 50; Bulk -4; Rcl 3

  • APEP: 10d (3) pi+ (~35 damage)

UBGL 25mm: 4d pi++, Acc 4, Weight +1.5; RoF 1; ST 10; Rcl 3;

  • HEMP: 6d×3 (10) cr in (~60 damage)

  • Shaped Charge: 5d×4 (10) cr inc (~70 damage)  

Spare Clips (5 storm carbine clips, 3 UBGL clips): 12.5 lbs;

Lets Fight!

For our fights, let's assume a distance of 20 yards (that's a "go-to" range in Psi-Wars, though it is a slightly inconvenient value); it represents about as much distance as you'll expect to see on board a ship or in a spacious building. This applies a range penalty of -6.

Comparison: Bot vs Commando

Let's start with a stand-up fight between the bot and the commando.  Both characters are SM +0 and can fairly easily take cover.

By default, the Commando will have a skill of 13 or less to hit the robot with his APEP loaded storm-carbine, assuming the robot is in cover; the robot is pretty good at dodging, and is fairly tough with effectively two layers of armor and extra HP.  It'll have a tough time getting through all of that armor, and so on average will only inflict a single point of damage (or more) 6% of the time.

The UBGL fairs much better.  While the commando only has skill 10 to hit the robot will under cover, the chance of inflicting a lethal hit is very high, even with the additional HP of the robot.  Thus, 22% of the time, the attack should hit, the robot will fail to dodge, and take enough damage to be incapacitated.

Between his dodge (and the chance at extra effort) and the robot's skill, the robot has about a 25% chance, all things considered, to land a hit.  Such a hit will cause damage 96% of the time (thus 24% of all attacks will inflict at least one point of damage), 73% of the attacks will inflict ten damage (about 18% of all attacks), and a 26% chance of killing the commando outright (about 7%).

A fight between the two has the robot able to shrug off the light-arms fire of the commando and maybe even shrug off a hit from the UBGL, which is impressive! The robot will almost certainly land some nasty hits on the commando, who's going to be feeling it, and given the ROF that the robot can deploy against the commando, there's even a chance for the robot to win.  But odds favor the commando landing at least one nice blow.

Thus might look fairly even, and interesting things pop out: the robot is very tough; the ability to wear armor helps it out a lot.  It's pretty small for the amount of armor it has.  It dodges fairly well.  But superior skill trumps superior traits and the commando wins.  However, the more important thing to remember is that the robot is at least 100 points more expensive even with my house rules!  You are better off playing as a commando than as a robot, and that's without even including power armor yet.

Comparison: Trooper vs Commando

Alright, let's dive into the meat of this fight.  Let's assume for the sake of argument that the greater size of the battlesuit prevents it from easily taking cover, as this is sure to be one of the consequences.

When we break the numbers down, the commando has about a 28% chance of landing a hit on the trooper with his storm carbine that the trooper even notices.  With the grenade, however, we're looking at a whopping 27% chance of a kill!

The Trooper, by contrast, struggles to land a hit on the agile commando who can take cover.  We hit about 12% of all attacks (after accounting for dodge).  A single hit is the end of the fight, though.

So, just looking at the numbers the Commando comes out on top, with double the chance of landing a killing blow.  But remember that the Commando is 100 points more expensive than the Trooper.  If they fought to a standstill, that would mean the battlesuit was effectively worth 100 points.

If I follow the same basic logic that's guided us to these point values, +2 to skill takes up about 25-50 points (assuming a +1 DX, +1 to skill, and a few other traits scattered around, or a level of Gunslinger).  Again, this is not "hard optimization" just a general outline of how a character might develop.  At +2 to skill, the trooper will land a lethal hit about 25% of the time which brings the two very close in line to one another.  Thus it's safe to conclude that a battlesuit is worth between +50 and +75 points.

Comparison: Trooper vs Bot

Given that the Commando held his own against the Bot, and beat the Trooper, this should be an interesting fight for "second place."

In practice, the robot cannot hope to kill the Trooper with anything less than a grenade.  If I run the numbers, I come to about 21% chance: the grenade is as likely to kill the trooper whether fired by the robot or the commando, but the robot is slightly less likely to hit.

The Trooper is as likely to hit the robot as the commando (both have cover, both dodge about as well), but is slightly less likely to kill it in a single shot.  The trooper has about an 11% chance per attack to kil the robot.

These results aren't that surprising: they're fairly comparable to the results of the Commando and the Trooper, which suggests that the Bot is about on par with the Commando, which agreed with our results above.  And once again, about +25 to +50 points should even the fight.  This time, of course, we come to the conclusion that the battlesuit is worth 125-150 points, but that may be because the robot is "overpriced" by about 100 points.


Is the battlesuit fair? The short answer is "No."  The battlesuit roughly translates to about 50 points of "free advantage."  If we really wanted to "balance" it, we'd have to find some way to handicap the battlesuit a bit, or charge them 50 points for the privilege of wearing one (or both, with a handicap that the battlesuit wearer can pay 50 points to ignore).

The long answer is: "No, but the real problem is that robots are wildly overpriced."  Even with my house rules, we still need some way to make robots fall more in line with the rest, and that means about a -25% to -35% reduction in cost, somewhere. On top of the changes I've already made.  How should I do that?  Well, this is where you and I have to part ways, I suspect, because at some point, I'm layering change atop change for the purposes of making Psi-Wars, and presumably, you're running a Rules-As-Written game, so any changes I make that aren't easily bundled into a small, coherent set of house rules won't be so useful for you, but for the Psi-Wars fans, I'll follow up with a deeper discussion of how to mitigate some of the worst of the problem.

However, the battle suit problem itself might be easier to tackle.  We can introduce some "Harsh Realism For Battlesuits" that, first, emphasize the rules that should probably be in place anyway, if we follow the logic of what power armor is, and this can lower their capability to be more in line with what we expect, and then we can introduce a character fee to ignore all of those problems and, perhaps, gain some additional benefits as well, similar to Gunslinger or Heroic Archer, but for power armor.

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