View Full Version : Promoting simplicity, gamer satisfaction, and cinematicity in space combat

2011-07-15, 03:37 PM
Having been around for 13 years, my space opera text-based roleplaying game is on its fourth ruleset for space combat.

Here's the tl;dr details:

First, we had a real-time video game-like system, where the person who knew the complex physics-based system the best and could type the fastest won. We eventually realized that we were, at our core, a text-based tabletop rpg, with our cinematic elements coming from well-written storytelling in true space opera style, not spammed commands. A text-based game was never going to compete with video games for people’s attention. Besides, we had blind and handicapped players, and they have a right to be awesome, too.

The second system involved breaking down space combat into a FUDGE ruleset, with ships and pilots having stats they rolled. The problem with this is that combat wasn’t really satisfying. Combat felt like Final Fantasy I, with choices of FIGHT, ITEM or RUN. The guy with the thickest hull, best shields, and strongest weapons always won, through a complex and archaic formula that while I’m sure it was realistic, but got more than a few complaints about the equivalent of the DM making up numbers behind the screen. Thus, people might write that they’re swooping around, but it had the same end effect as if they just pointed two ships at each other and fired at will until one was blown up or ran away.

The third system stole much of the second, but it attempted to add extra systems to make combat interesting. These were complex and not given very clear rules, such that some of our GMs wouldn’t allow some systems because nobody knew how they worked. Despite this, base combat rules remained painfully simplistic, so that creativity and tactics really had no place. It also was weighted extremely towards ship combat being a combat between ships, rather than between pilots or gunners. The characters were merely window dressing.

So here we are, having just built the fourth system. Ship combat stats are simple and transparent, having only six base systems that provided our six variables: Speed, FTL speed, Maneuverability, Shields, Hull and Sensors. We abandoned the dull predictability of center-weighted FUDGE dice in lieu of d10’s. We made a good balance between the character’s skill and the ship’s skill, so that combat depends on both. But now we’re at the point of writing rules and visualizing the combat itself, like whether we should have a grid for better visualizing where everyone is, 2D vs 3D, what a combat round should look like, and how to avoid bogging the scene down in looking up overly-complex rules.

I’ve glanced at d20 Future, a couple Star Wars systems, and even GURPS, and none seem perfect for us. Besides, we’ve homebrewed everything else about our game, why not this too? We’re a space opera, in the tradition of Star Wars or Buck Rogers. This the genre of daring and creative maneuvers, big explosions and just-in-time saves, with realism sometimes taking a back seat to awesome. Combat needs to be quick, clean and easily-visualized but still allow for different basic ‘builds’ or ‘tactics’. Non-capships should have a role beyond attracting fire that would have otherwise gone to your capship. And yeah, while I’d like to avoid loopholes, munchkins and confusing rules, I’d like my players to be able to make choices both before and during combat that allow them to play differently from each other, without having only one ‘best’ option. And if having a best option is impossible to avoid, at least take the D&D route and allow for separate but important roles.

So rather than asking you for a system that best fits my needs (because I’m going to make it up anyways), I’m going to ask a slightly different question: What elements of a system or specific mechanics should I be looking at to best fit my needs?

2011-07-16, 02:18 PM
Here (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=202138) are runeward's articles on various game design stuff. Look at the zoning ones. Those can actually make things considerably easier while still giving you the ability to do grid combat.

also, you're using fudge as the base system, so maybe you can just go one step further and introduce scene aspects as a mechanic, which allows for some pretty flexible game play.

2011-07-16, 02:43 PM
We no longer use FUDGE, instead using a 1-10 skill scale with 1d10-5 as a roll. That said, thanks for the resource! That'll really come in handy. Anybody else have anything?

2011-07-21, 07:48 PM
A simple-ish system I came up with for doing zero-G dogfights using d12s:

Reasoning: Basically, space is a confusing place. Your up could be someone else's down, their front could be your top, etc. Everyone is buzzing around in their own frame of reference.
Therefore, I think grids and maps are not the best options: if your opponent has a huge bow gun and his broadsides are bristling with cannons, why not just come at him from above?

And why d12? Everyone has at least one, and they are almost never used, so keeping it out of the action is safe.

At the start of combat, each ship or squadron places their d12 on a number. This number is a completely abstract representation of where you are relative to all the other ships in the battle. The direction the die is oriented is also important.

Any other ship or squadron (here on out referred to as "ship(s)") on the same number are within point-blank range. What point-blank is depends on your scaling system.

Ships on numbers which are adjacent to your own number are within weapon's range in one of five directions: in front of, off your port bow, of your starboard bow, off your port stern, off your starboard stern.

Ships can spend their movement actions to change their facing or to change the number they are on. This represents flying around in space trying to get a better position relative the other ships.


Ultimately, I think action-packed cinematic space combat should treat position as mechanically abstract, because other methods are either too unrealistic, or so granular they bog everything down.

2011-07-21, 08:05 PM
1. If you're concerned about having one "best option", then make a "combat triangle" type system where option A beats B beats C beats A (for more than 3 options, there should similarly be something to beat every option, and something beaten by every option that you want seriously considered.) That way, there can be no "best option" (as if there were, everybody'd take it, so then whatever beats it would be a clear winner, and you end up with an equilibrium.) (An example would be letting non-capships carry weaponry capable of seriously harming capships, but at the cost of maneuverability and aiming capability so that they're sitting ducks for snubfighter types.)
2. You want tradeoff-based options. If you want to boost one thing, you need to give up something else.
3. If you want awesomeness at the cost of realism and just-in-time saves, you probably want some sort of action-point-like system to allow the really important rolls to get that extra boost.