Ran another session of SWN Revised yesterday, this one being the continuation of the adventure I posted about recently. Of particular note is that this was the first time I had an opportunity to run a starship combat.
The set-up: the PC's merchant frigate, armed with a reaper-battery and equipped with an engine boost mod was leaving a planet, after having run a blockade to get onto the surface. This time, they were detected. Two ships, an armed merchant frigate (reaper battery) and a fighter (multifocal laser) closed in.
At this point I handed out copies of the General Actions (printed and cut out) to each of the players, and handed out the five different crew positions to their respective players. Since there were only four players, the Engineer got the Comms officer job as well.
The two enemy ships got to go first. merchantman missed, fighter did 5 points of damage on its pass. Ouch.
Then I told the players to do a "test round". They were a bit confused at first regarding the dynamic of how CPs are generated and then spent, and how the Captain only has full control over crew order. I also explained how the Crisis system worked, and showed them the kinds of fun things that Crises could entail.
The test round went alright; the players did some CP generating and shooting and made lots of "heh heh duty" jokes. Sigh.
Instead of shooting their way out, they switched on their afterburners and proceeded to perform three consecutive Escape Combat Bridge actions over three rounds, and got away. They then had some pursuit rolls every 6 hours as the fighter and merchantman had Spike-1 drives, but the PC's ship had a Spike-2 drive. I think I did that right?
1. It is absolutely crucial to explain to the players that a: discussion of what to do in each round is encouraged and expected. The table top discussion does not necessarily translate to what happens in-character, mind you, but at least the discussion is good.
2. The Captain is such a dynamic and important member of the crew. Make sure that whoever is holding down that position is engaged and knows how to maximize the Support Department action OR the Above and Beyond action using skills like Lead or Talk.
3. My players caught on pretty quickly, and by round 2 of the combat they were comfortable enough to start arguing about what to do. :-)
4. The Escape Combat action at 4CP really requires the crew to commit to running away. If everyone else (captain included) Does Their Duty (heheh...see!?) then that's all the ship can do. If one person goes Above and Beyond (generating 2CP) and the Captain Supports the Bridge, then the 4CP can be spent on Escaping Combat, and Evasive Maneuvers, or Escaping Combat and Firing a Weapon. Low skill-level crews are kinda terrible.
5. The Pursuit rules are actually pretty good, and keep the pressure on. Narratively, it is important to talk about what the pilot/navigator is doing to keep the bad guys at bay. But it feels like a tense submarine chase, and that's good.
6. An important question came up: What prevents having a bunch of extra PCs around Doing Their Duty or Going Above and Beyond? So you've got 7 PCs in the ship, only 5 crew stations. What is keeping the extra two from generating two more CP (or even more, using Above and Beyond)? Naturally, this went all reductio ad absurdum, and my players were wondering if it didn't pay to have a small retinue of crew generating extra CP just because they're there.
I know that's silly, but the example of CP generation in the rules (p. 119) does exactly that with a "bard" singing a rousing tune. I don't see a problem with that, but I also have visions of the Red Army Choir on board, and the CP(PP)s just accruing. Heh.
7. One thing that might change at my table: the rounds are too long at 15 minutes. My players and I need things to be a bit more hectic and Star Wars-like in most contexts. This is a pretty minor problem, since the timeframe is entirely subjective, but it's there.
All in all, an excellent space combat system. Will try running some more, to see what a real shoot out does.
Crew only get the ability to take ship actions if they head stations. Thus the two extra crew can't actually add more CP by doing their duty. They might be able to assist in other ways, however: firing the guns (if the Gunner takes that action), fighting boarding parties or even boarding an enemy vessel themselves, and so on.
Fifteen minute rounds feels more like an old maritime engagement than an aerial dogfight. I like Star Wars, but as you said, it's more like a submarine hunt. Cooler that way, IMO, though it makes fighter turns seem a bit weirder.
But that's not what the rules and the example say: each PC can take an action, crew department head or not. Which is fine, because I want everyone at the table engaged.
Most of those non-crew PCs will be dealing with crises, but they should totally be able to generate command points. The problem is that it's a slippery slope to many, many extra CPs.
I agree, the fifteen minute turns make for Das Boot and The Cruel Sea style fights. But fighters are a different story. Hm.
+Josh Peters you're absolutely correct. First paragraph is explicit to this point. What that means is, I guess, more PCs just run the ship better (I guess you balance by improving the opposing force, if you worry about it at all). But that clearly closes down the reductio ad absurdum argument you mentioned, unless the GM is going to massively expand the number of PCs in his game.
I did enjoy my Red Army Choir in Spaaaaaaaaaaaace idea though.
There's nothing to explicitly forbid a 12-player crew from stacking huge CP totals, but they definitely can't just nominate another dozen NPCs to Do Their Duty. Players are the important ones in a space fight. 6+ player groups are pretty rare in my experience, though if the group's big enough to need a caller I'd probably hold it down to a maximum of six PCs counting in any given round.
The 15 minute round does seem a bit weird to me too. I remember reading that due to ECM jamming, ship combat took place at "knife range" or something to that extent. This isn't two ships firing missiles and lasers and each other from thousands of kilometers away. What about fighters? Although, for the purposes of crises, the 15 minute round makes sense.
+Vinnie Brown knife range is thousands of kilometers in space. A laser is going to cover that distance in a few milliseconds, a mass driver round in under a minute. This is more akin to Age of Sail or even WWII era, where ship guns took minutes to reload and train on the target. That's why the rounds are fifteen minutes But more importantly, you're not firing "over the horizon." That's the key reason for ECM: ships need direct contact, and can't just rely on indirect aiming by putting a guided missile in the vicinity.
+Lord Darkview That makes sense. How would you explain the fighters then?
I've been thinking about this problem, and it's one of the bugbears of the genre of "non-star wars" space combat, isn't it?
I think in the end all you can do is handwave it: a ship combat turn is as long as you need it to be, dramatically. Sometimes, they're 15 minutes long. Sometimes, they're a minute long. It doesn't really matter.
The fighter issue is but one: what happens when a boarding party breaches the hull, and two PCs head off to Deal With That Crisis? Are they doing 15 minute combat rounds? Clearly no. So the combat "turn" they are taking is a narrative one, right? Unless the two players are up for a "zoom in" segue where they fight in 6 second combat rounds and everyone else at the table sits and waits...
It gets pretty fuzzy. I think that it might be better to have combat rounds either be 15 minutes long, one minute long, or be as long as they need to be...
Fighters just fit strangely. But they're not actually fighters. They're more like attack helicopters or strike aircraft of other sorts... Dogfighting isn't really a thing. The weapons largely reinforce that... Fighters generally don't 1-shot each other.
+Josh Peters Boarding parties are handled exactly as you describe (ie: the whole boarding operation and ensuing fight resolves in a single ship turn). That's another component of the 15-minute turns lining up with a typical combat or action scene. It allows you to fit the normal, personal game into the long, drawn out, space broadside battle.
Hmm... Fighters can be pretty nasty to each other. But you're right, except for Fractal Impact Charges, you can't one-shot a Fighter with another Fighter-sized weapon. That seems a little strange, though I suppose it's to prevent PC fighter pilots from dying from single hits in dogfights.
The problem I have with the Boarding action-as-crisis is that it slows down the otherwise totally awesome story/narrative idea that is ship combat. What I love about ship combat in these rules is that everyone is involved. Even if they're just Doing Their Duty, every player at the table makes a decision every round, and all the players have a general discussion regarding that round's plan. It's amazing to watch.
But then you have a boarding action, and two PCs run off to fight the intruders as they Deal With A Crisis. That leaves the other players sitting at the table waiting for the GM to run a 6-second/round combat. Which totally defeats the purpose of having this dynamic narrative driven ship combat system that gets everyone engaged.
So there has to be some sort of workaround.
+Josh Peters Is there a crisis for being boarded? I can't seem to find it, unless it's a Homebrew crisis or something.
It's not a crisis listed in the table, no.
"Homebrew crisis" seems fair though, doesn't it? I suppose the workaround would be to stop the starship combat, and have the table game out the boarding action in 6 second combat rounds. I don't know if I've ever run a combat that lasted 15 minutes in-game (150 rounds), so I suppose it's not too rough. It certainly does make for a bit of a disconnect, but would work on nearly anything other than really large ships or stations.
That still leaves fighter combat...