Friday, October 26, 2018

On Eggshells with Hammers

As I work on my GURPS Vehicles conversion, I get a lot of questions, and this is a common one for anyone who works with GURPS Spaceships. This post will be a deep dive into some basic assumptions behind GURPS and how it derives damage, HP and DR and how those relationships interact on the extreme ends of things like Spaceships and Ultra-Tech.

 The most common complaint leveled against GURPS Spaceships is that spaceships are "eggshells with hammers," that their firepower vastly exceeds their capacity to absorb damage, and fights ultimately come down to who fires first, who is more accurate, and who has better point defense, than who has better armor or who is bigger.  This may be realistic. It's certainly how battles play out in, for example, the Bobiverse, and it's pretty close to how combat plays out in the real world, where a single missile is generally enough to take out a major naval warship like a carrier (and one of the reasons we moved away from battleships and to carriers: better to project firepower far, far away from the ship than to try to absorb a single hit).  But it's not necessarily fun, and it creates some perverse incentives.  Where does it come from, who thought this was a good idea, and what can we do about it?

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Empire-Class Dreadnought 2.0 - the Vehicle

The Stats

ST/HP: 4000†

Hand/SR: -2/6

HT: 12

Move: 4/100 (+10)

LWt.: 410,000

Load: 60,000

SM: +14

Occ.: 5000 ASV

DR: 5000/2500*

Range: NA (5 jumps)

Cost: $111B

Loc.: gGs40t

*the Empire-Class dreadnought has DR 5000 on the front, and 2500 everywhere else except for its turrets and sensors, which have a DR of 100. It has a force screen with 15,000 dr (ablative).

†The Empire-Class dreadnought has Injury Tolerance: Damage Reduction (2)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Empire-Class Dreadnought 2.0 - Inspirations

So, for my playtest, I've completed a new version of the Starhawk and the Typhoon, two vehicles already available in GURPS Spaceships 4.  For the third "iconic" Psi-Wars vehicle, I have chosen the Empire-Class Dreadnought from GURPS Spaceships 3.  The Empire-Class has served as our primary "imperial" warship, the dread conqueror and the powerhouse to beat.  It has showed up in playtests and in Tinker Titan Rebel Spy, my short-lived Psi-Wars campaign.

The Empire-Class Dreadnought isn't too bad as far as GURPS Spaceships creations go.  It lacks major issues and, in fact, taught me a lot about spaceship design.  It has perhaps an unrealistically large hangar, and it lacks missiles and armor, which tend to be the mainstays for more realistic ships, but it makes up for it with superb firepower, including an astonishing spinal cannon and very powerful force screen.  This makes it both a terrifying threat, a planet-conquering troop-transport, and a cinematically satisfying opponent to take on, as once you defeat or bypass its screens, even a relatively small fighter can take it out with a well-placed torpedo.

With the recreation of Vehicles in 4e, the goal now is to rebuild it in Vehicles, but also to re-imagine it from the ground up, rather than just "converting" the existing ship.  To do that, I want to dive into what it is, what inspired it, and what role it serves in its fleet.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Action Vehicular Combat Playtest 1 - Starhawk vs Typhoon

Now that we have an update to our Action Vehicular Combat, integrated the Chase rules, the Dogfighting rules and a few additional expansions, we need to test it out, with our newly revised Typhoons and Starhawks! Naturally, we need pilots, so we’ll choose our old friend Tobin Starlaw, to whom we’ll give this fancy new Ace Fighter advantage, and we’ll choose Starlet as his wingman. Starhawks are superior to Typhoons (they certainly cost more), and Tobin and Starlet are superior pilots, so they should be able to easily handle an array of mook fighters. Thus, for this battle, we’ll have the pair face off against a wing of 5 typhoons in an asteroid field (Rough, Normal terrain which starts at Distant range).

For simplicity, Tobin has Pilot 18, Gunnery/Artillery 16, Daredevil and Ace Fighter. Starlet has Skill 15 in everything pertinent. Tobin has an ally Tech-Bot with skill-18 in anything pertinent (mainly Electronics Operations, Hyperspace navigation and doing quick repairs). Starlet has some lame, run of the mill robot with no personality and skill 12. The Starhawk stats are here. What matters most is that the Starhawk has the following traits:

  • 140 HP, HT 11

  • An absolute maximum speed (for escape) of 650 (+14)

  • +4 Dodge (in high agility)

  • A best possible Chase Roll (high agility, afterburner) of +17

  • +4 accuracy on its missiles (4 missiles), with 6dx10 damage

  • -4 ECM (and a decoy launcher)

  • ROF 12 cannon (+2 to hit), with 6dx5(5) damage

  • DR 15 and force screen DR 200 which can be angled.

Our imperial pilots have skill 12. For a reference to a typhoon, see here. What matters most is that the Typhoon has the following traits:

  • 90 HP, HT 9f

  • An absolute maximum speed (for escape) of 750 (+15)

  • A best possible Chase Roll (afterburner) of +15

  • +5 dodge

  • -4 ECM (and a decoy launcher)

  • ROF 6 between two cannons (+1 to hit), with 6dx5(5) damage

  • DR 15

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Action Vehicular Combat

These rules are based on the GURPS Action Chase rules starting on Page 31 of GURPS Action 2: Exploits; this has been substantially updated to account for dogfighting and other, heavier forms of vehicular combat.  While this was designed for Psi-Wars, most of it should work for any vehicle-heavy Action game.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Action Vehicular Combat - Musings

One of the reasons I wanted to step away from GURPS Spaceships is that it seems less compatible with the GURPS Action rules than I would like, and I didn’t want one rule-set for outspace and one ruleset for the ground. In principle, a repulsor-car chase and a dogfight should be essentially the same.

I’ve dug through the chase rules, and the Dogfighting rules from Pyramid and, of course, I’m already familiar with the Spaceship combat rules. My intent here was to get a feel for how things worked, and what I’d want to change if I wanted to use the rules for Psi-Wars. My core discovery is that the Chase rules are for chases, and what I really want is a vehicular combat system. The chase rules comment several times on what happens when you “Catch up” to your target: combat happens. Fortunately, the chase rules support combat, allowing the game to flow in and out of combat and chases:

Chases and combat aren’t exclusive! The chase rules support combat during a chase, and the GM is free to end a chase if both sides decide to stop running and start shooting. Similarly, if somebody bolts from a fight, the GM can switch over to the chase rules -GURPS Action 2 page 31

So if we want a more comprehensive example of what a Psi-Wars Dogfight or Tank battle looks like, what we ultimately need to do is work out how vehicular combat should work in GURPS Action, as the GURPS Action doesn’t really consider this, focusing more on cars and motorcycles than tanks and fighter jets.

Incidentally, a quick aside: one thing I’ve struggled with in GURPS Action is how to handle movement. If you’re at rifle range and you want to move to melee range, how do you do it? The answer has been staring me in the face the whole time: you trigger back into the chase rules. Duh. This actually means moving into melee is actually pretty easy.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Starhawk 2.1 - The Vehicle

The Stats

ST/HP: 135

Hand/SR: +2/4

HT: 11

Move: 9/500* (+14)

LWt.: 19

Load: 2

SM: +5

Occ.: 1SV

DR: 15

Range: 20,000*

Cost: $51M

Loc.: g3rR2Wi

Stall: 65

*The Starhawk is equipped with an afterburner which improves the Move to 12/600 (+14) and handling to +3 and consumes four times as much fuel (reducing range to 6,000 miles, if used continuously).

†The Starhawk has variable geometry wings. “Speed Geometry” use the above stats; “Agility Geometry” halves its top speed (250 (+12) or 300 (+13) with afterburner), gives it a +1 to handling and reduces the Stall speed to 32. While using both afterburner and Agility geometry, it has a total handling of +4 and a top speed of 300 (+13).

‡The Starhawk has a force screen with DR 200. This may be angled to create 400 DR in a particular direction, but 100 DR in another directions.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Starhawk 2.1 - Inspirations

As with the Typhoon, the Starhawk is a vehicle you can just “plug and play,” and is found in GURPS Spaceships 4. And like with the Typhoon, we need to convert it into our new system and, while doing that, why not make the Starhawk our own? And so, I’d like to take a moment to ponder the Starhawk, its design, its inspirations, its mission, and what a semi-original take on it might look like.

The Starhawk, as written in GURPS Spaceships 4, is a pretty good vehicle. It has no obvious flaws or errata that I can see. It has plenty of maneuverability, firepower and durability, and accurately reflects its inspiration, which is obviously the X-wing. It handled well in my playtests, and I expect it to be as popular in Psi-Wars as its inspiration was in Star Wars. The only real problems I can see with the design is that it has wings (despite not needing them), and that it can’t “move” its wings the way an X-wing can, so it really only has one “mode” of flight (perhaps it can move its wings, but this makes no mechanical difference to the vehicle). It’s also a complicated beast to manage, as you need to play with the power points of beg your tech-bot to boost the system. This seems more feature than bug, an intention of the design, but it’s a feature that might not translate well to our new design. The gun is also a problem: GURPS SS has a sort of “maximum reasonable gun” for a given SM, but our vehicles don’t have to follow that, and a single high ROF gun is definitely cheaper and lighter than 4 weapons with ROF 1 that have the same damage.

Most of these problems can be addressed with a simple conversion. Our new system does require wings, and allows for variable wing geometries, and there are ways to handle power-points and such. The gun we’ll have to either accept or change and thus fundamentally change the design of the vehicle.

The X-Wing

The Starhawk is clearly inspired by the X-Wing, which I would argue is the most iconic of the Star Wars fighters, and may be the most iconic sci-fi starfighter of all time (though probably not the most iconic starship: the Enterprise, Millennial Falcon and the Death Star probably beat it out). It’s very popular, but that doesn’t mean it can’t use some improvements.

The single biggest concern that I have for the X-wing is precisely how iconic it is. When doing my homework for TIE fighters, I had only to google up “alternate TIE fighters” to get a bevy of ideas and artwork for new TIE fighters, but with X-Wings I had no such luck. There are, of course, a variety of models, but they all look and perfrom virtually the same. A few specific details might change here and there, but the core elements of “moveable wings that can form an X” and the pointed nose and the astromech all remain. This leaves me with a conundrum: either I copy an iconic Star Wars fighter, which I think damages Psi-Wars as an “original setting” or I make serious changes to the fighter that threaten its “Star Wars-ness.” This, I think, will be the trickiest and most contentious part of the design.

The other issue worth raising are the guns and their placement. Fighters use to place their guns on their wings mainly to get around their propeller, and it required them to make concessions. For example, they needed to make their guns converge on some point in front of the fighter, which limited how far away, and how close, they could shoot. It’s not clear to me at all why one would need to mount your guns like that. Such a mounting might help dissipate heat while using the wings as a sort of radiator, but frankly you could do that with a body-mounted cannon too, and such a weapon would fire directly along the center-line of the craft allowing greater range, and a single high ROF cannon is more economical than multiple low ROF cannons.

Another quibble: the X-wing has four, pod-mounted engines. Pod-mounted engines are, of course, real things and offer interesting options, like preventing your vehicle from being catastrophically destroyed when one of its engines are destroyed, so this is fine. However, the new trilogy has things that look like pod-mounted engines, but evidently aren’t, as the engine is mounted on the main body, in the back (you can clearly see this in the Last Jedi when Poe Dameron accelerates at the Dreadnought). What, then, are those things on the wings? Why are they there?

The X-wing has a few non-obvious features, such as cargo space for the pilot. It’s not much more than survival supplies, and you see Luke pulling gear out if it in the Empire Strikes Back, but it’s an interesting option. Paired with its hyperdrive and its life-support, it’s a vehicle that one could travel the galaxy in. I’m not sure why you need a fighter that can hyperjump on its own (what’s the point of a carrier, then?), but it says something interesting about the long-range nature of the X-wing.

I must also admit to being in love with the idea of an astro-mech. The purpose of it isn’t entirely obvious in the movies, but the astromech handles the navigation of hyperspace and it acts as a second crew member. In my research, I discovered that many fighters have two crew members, typically a pilot and a crewman (“Goose” from Top Gun is the latter). This crewman can handle things like sensors, ECM, comms, etc, which frees up the pilot to just focus on flying and fighting, and I suspect our astromech fulfills a similar role.

All the rest makes a considerable amount of sense, from the deflector screens to the cockpit design and even the ejection system (assuming that it doesn’t just spit you out into space without a vacc suit…). There’s a reason its a popular craft: it looks cool, and it makes sense, more or less.

The Starhawk Inspirations

This article by Popular Science compares the X-wing to the Supermarine Spitfire: both have exceptionally thin wings, high speed and maneuverability and multiple guns. The spitfire had four guns per wing. I did some research into why people would mount so many guns on wings, and it turns out its because these light machine guns needed to make up for their lack of killing power when it came to shooting down other fights. Why not just mount autocannons, then? The answer is: they didn’t have them at the time, for whatever reason. Once their manufacturing capacity caught up to demand, spitfires began to sport 20mm autocannons.

Other sources compa
re the X-Wing to the P40 Wildcat, and prefers to compare Star Wars to the pacific theater than to the Battle of Britain. Compared to the Zero, the P40 was less maneuverable, but more robust and generally more broadly capable. This is an apt comparison, as we would generally expect one to want to be in an X-wing rather than a TIE-fighter. Where a TIE fighter is a mook ship that does one thing and does it well, the X-wing is a robust jack-of-all-trades fighter that gives it flexibility and robustness more appropriate to a hero-fighter, and needs to use that flexibility, paired with team-work, to defeat the more specialized TIE fighter.

For more modern examples, the article above compares the X-Wing to the F-16. They argue that an X-Wing is a combination of fighter and strike craft, and I think this is accurate. While the Y-Wing was clearly the “heavy fighter/bomber” craft, the X-wing could supplement it if necessary, thanks to its proton torpedoes. We often see this sort of fighter which fulfills multiple roles, and the X-wing seems an iconic example, and that makes it a sort of ideal “player” ship.

But for me, the best modern metaphor for an X-Wing is the F-14 Tomcat, and not just because I watched Top Gun recently. It’s a carrier-capable fighter with variable sweep wings and a second crewmember. Sound familiar? The complexity of flying the craft and camaraderie between tech-bot and pilot on a Starhawk would match that of the crew of an F-14.

When it comes to fiction, I find it hard to find a good example of an X-wing-type ship outside of Star Wars. The Old Republic has their Talon/Liberator class fighter and Wing Commander has its Hellcat, and really, if you look around, you can find any “typical heroic fighter” in any story. That’s what the Starhawk ultimately is: a fighter for a hero to engage in any sort of space adventure. This is why it has a hyperdrive and why it has a compartment for supplies and why it can be super-maneuverable but also super-tough, etc etc etc. In a sense, I find this its greatest weakness thematically, and why it’s hard to find parallels: the X-wing is distinct in appearance, but indistinct in mission. The X-wing is either “okay” at everything, in which case it’s like a Hellcat from WC3, or it’s “the best” at everything, in which case, why do you have other fighters? Star Wars needn’t make compromises on its designs, but we do and the question is where we make those compromises.

Another big problem I face is how to take such a visually distinct vehicle and create another that captures the spirit of the X-wing while still being original, and the best craft I can find for inspiration in that regard is, of all things, the U-Wing of Rogue One. Like the X-wing, it has four engines and variable wings, but it has two, which sweep forward and back. With the wings fully swept back, we might have a “delta-swept wings” and maximize your speed. Classically, with lateral wings, we have maximum maneuverability, but we can make them forward-swept “high agility” wings like the wings of a hawk (our namesake) for our maximum maneuverability, and we can bring the wings against the fuselage for maximum compactness when on the carrier. A neat trick. Thus, if we take the back half of the U-wing, replace the front-half with a sleeker, fighter-like design, and shrink the entire vehicle down to a one-man fighter rather than a full transport, then I think we have a vehicle that captures the dynamics of the X-wing without looking like an x-wing.

The Starhawk 2.1 Mission Profile

Our design should reflect the intended usage of the Starhawk, and thus, we need to know what that intended usage is.

If we argue that the Starhawk is an Alliance ship, then the Alliance is governed by elites who want to excel at battle, who want to participate in all engagements, and who want to survive. A pilot becomes the equivalent of a well-armored knight.

What we get is a multi-role fighter, something that must be quick enough to act as an interceptor, agile enough to act as a dog-fighter, and with sufficient armament to be a strike fighter, and sufficient durability to keep its pilot alive. The one thing such a ship wouldn’t have is a cheap price-tag, but it represents a vehicle where its designers bet on quality over quantity. The complexity of the craft favors experienced/elite pilots who know how to manage the variable sweep and how to handle a wide array of missions, which also favors a “quality, elite aristocracy” over the masses of combatants.

The hyperdrive is an unusual choice, but it says a few things about the mission. First, it means the fighter is not reliant on a carrier. It might use a carrier, especially for longer jumps, but it extends a carrier’s reach considerably, and a squadron of planet-based fighters could join a larger fleet ad hoc and make a strike with them without worrying whether there was enough room on a carrier. This suits the “ad hoc” nature of Alliance defenses, as local planetary defenders need only have a Starhawk on hand to join the fight, provided the fight isn’t half a galaxy away. Further, paired with internal rations and 5-day life-support, the craft can act as a personal transport vehicle in a way a Typhoon cannot. If you have a Starhawk, you can access the stars, whether to fight for a good cause, to become a mercenary, or to become a pirate.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Responding to Typhoon Commentary

So, I've had some comments about the Typhoon, some praise, some criticism, some response to questions and some surprised gasps.  I wanted to take a moment to address them and discuss some thoughts that arose from them.

I want to thank everyone participating in the discussion, and if you're not already on Discord, where most of the conversation seems to take place, I highly recommend you join us!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Typhoon 2.0 - the Vehicle

The Stats

ST/HP: 90

Hand/SR: +5/4

HT: 9f

Move: 18/550* (+14)

LWt.: 5.6

Load: 0.3

SM: +4

Occ.: 1S

DR: 15

Range: 13,000*

Cost: $11M

Loc.: g3rR2Wi

Stall: 32

*The Typhoon is equipped with an Afterburner which improves the Move to 27/650 (+14) and consumes four times as much fuel (reducing range to 3,250 miles, if used continuously).

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Typhoon 2.0 - Thoughts and Inspirations

Since I began Psi-Wars, I’ve been using existing ships as much as possible. Why? Because that’s why they exist! If you want to sit down and just play, you grab a blaster from GURPS Ultra-Tech, a template from GURPS Space and a starship from GURPS Spaceships and you play. But now that we have a new, updated vehicle system, and a new paradigm for handling spaceships, why not build my own? Or, at least, adapt the old ideas to the new system and, as usual, branch out in my own direction as necessary. Shortly, I'd like to use these ships as a test bed for any new dogfighting system, so I need to start with something.

Why not the Typhoon?  It represents a knock-off of the iconic Tie-Fighter, though one tailored to the conceits of GURPS Spaceships. It's been central to all my previous dogfighting examples, and so definitely has a place here. But the Typhoon, as written, in GURPS Spaceships 4, has a few problems. For one thing, it has two fusion reactors when, at most, it needs only one. The second is that it’s heavily armored, which may work well for GURPS Spaceships, but will definitely not fly in our new system, where starfighters work like actual fighters, and tons of heavy armor would make it drop out of the sky!

So, we need to build a new Typhoon. The real intent of this design is not necessarily to give us a final version of the Empire’s primary starfighter, but to give us something we can play with when fixing the dogfighting system for Psi-Wars. It also gives me a chance to meditate upon the Typhoon and its inspirations from Star Wars and from the real world.

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