Sunday, June 15, 2008

Reign Of Discordia Design Diary 2 - Starship Combat

Reign of Discordia is a True20 setting, and though it really does function as a unique set of rules, it has its roots firmly planted in the D20 SRD (system reference document, for those not in the know). There have been some attempts to get away from that with some products, but to me, the farther one gets from D20's various subsystems, the stranger and less integrated with the rest of the game the mechanics feel. It was therefore my intention to use as much of the starship combat rules from the Future SRD as I could get away with.

This is a sensible plan; after all, why reinvent the wheel? There's just one problem: I don't particularly like the Future starship combat rules. Like much of D20 Modern (to me, at least), the system just came up a bit short. I played some starship combat under the D20 Future rules shortly after it came out, and I specifically felt that the damage rules and the movement rules were deficient.

Starting with the damage rules, what I didn't like was the fact that they went to such great efforts to make everything scale perfectly with standard D20 Modern that it just caused annoyance. Since a point of damage on the character scale was a point of damage on the ship scale, you ended up having to roll a crapload of dice any time you hit with any weapon. Who carries 8 8-sided dice with them to a gaming session? Unless you had the guy at the table who carried a pouch containing every dice he's ever owned, chances are that he's going to sit there and individually roll that eight sided dice 8 times (and even if you do have that guy, what are the chances that he's going to let other players jinx them by sharing with others?). Of course he tallies the die rolls in his head as he goes, and then towards the end, "Oh crap, was that 54 or 56 points?" or "Hey, was that five or six die rolls I just made?" And the one guy who does bring his bag of dice still manages to roll between one and three off the table, prompting rerolls, causing dice collisions between the re-thrown dice and the ones that are sitting on the table, thus changing their values. In other words, it's a royal pain.

One of the nice things about True20 is that you have a completely different mechanic for dealing with damage. You don't roll a handful of dice under any circumstances. This is a good start, but it led me down a line of thought that brought up some larger questions.

Should a guy with a blaster standing on the hull of a ship be able to damage it in any way? True20 has no hardness rules. Toughness becomes part of the measure of hardness, but that still means that a guy could potentially get suited up in a space suit, grab a blaster, float himself over to the hull of a quarter mile-long battlecruiser, and take a shot at the thing. If the battle-cruiser botched its roll, it could take some actual damage from the shot. This doesn't make sense to me. If you take a pistol and shoot at a real life naval warship's hull, is it going to do any damage at all? No way! With the armor that thing has, the bullet is totally bouncing off! The same should be true for starships; after all, they're armored well enough to withstand collisions with small sized space junk.

To solve this issue, I changed the scale. Starship weaponry starts with a damage of 1 and goes up from there. Damage 1 = damage 10 on the personal scale. A guy with a blaster now cannot do damage to the hull of a ship, though a guy with a plasma cannon, or a nuke, can. This also keeps the die rolls nice and low - they're actually the same scale as character combat, which makes the math easy. I was a little unsure about the mechanic after I came up with it, so we playtested it, and it worked extremely well. Starship combat still felt like starship combat, but the level of complexity was minimized.

Next up is movement. What I absolutely loathe about the D20 Future method of movement is that it is exactly like character movement. Starships can start and stop on a dime and size does not affect maneuverability. In my experience, this makes for starships that aren't affected by inertia, and combat becomes very, very boring. So, with that in mind, I fixed the problem.

But wait a minute. All stop. Back the horse up. Isn't one of the design goals of True20 to streamline things and make the game easier to play? Why yes, yes it is. But isn't what I'm talking about actually going to complicate gmae play? Why yes, yes it is. So how can I justify doing this with good conscience? OPTIONAL RULES! You see, the D20 Future starship rules are already about as streamlined as they can get (if you don't take the above mentioned damage dice into account, anyway). There would be no reason to go any further in the direction of streamlining and simplification, but if you're a simulationshit, like myself, there is reason to add complication. So these rules are purely optional, and in my opinion, they make a barely acceptable system both playable and enjoyable.

Optional Rule 1: Acceleration and Deceleration. In the standard rules, ships have a tactical speed. Under the D20 Future rules, they can go from 0 to as many squares as they wish in a single round. As I said, I find this unrealistic in space. To remedy this, the tactical speed remains unchanged, but you now have to accelerate or decelerate to change your speed. Each engine type has a base number of squares it can accelerate or decelerate in a round (minimum 1). This number is reduced by 1 per size above the ultralight starship size. For instance, if an Ultralight starship with a particle impulse engine has an acceleration/deceleration of 6 squares, a Superheavy starship with the same type of engine has an Acceleration/Deceleration of 2 squares.

Optional Rule 2: Maneuverability. It should go without saying that not all ships should be able to thumb their noses at inertia. Ships are assumed to be moving forward as they move around on the battlemat due to their main enginges being located in the back of the ship. A ship that is a quarter of a mile long simply should not be able to make a sudden 90 degree turn, and move a couple squares, and then make another 90 degree turn and go a few more. The new rules are as follows: Super-heavy starships may rotate 45 degrees once per round. Every class below superheavy may rotate an additional 45 degrees per round. Ultra-light starships may rotate 5 times during their move, Light starships may rotate 4 times during their move, Medium starships may rotate 3 times during their move, and Heavy starships may rotate twice during their move. Ships that may rotate more than once during a turn may do so at any point during their move, however, they must move forward one square after each doing so before rotating again.

Again, this is a relatively simple rule, but it adds a degree of tactical complexity to starship movement that is otherwise lacking.

Now frankly, the Reign of Discordia setting is actually relatively rules light. I was interested in creating an interesting setting that people would want to participate in rather than putting a rulebook out there dressed up as a setting (don't even get me started on all the 200 page D20 setting books out there that really only had 30 pages worth of actual setting material, while the other 170 pages were add-on rules that I was usually only marginally interested in). Remember the design concepts behind True20 are that simple and streamlined = good. I've already covered the major rules changes with the first two design diaries. Yes, there are more rules present than the ones I've talked about, but most of those simply involve adapting the Future SRD to True20, and in most cases the changes were relatively minor. In the next design diaries I'm going to talk about the setting itself and how I set out to create something that contained some familiar elements, but did it in a way that made for an interesting and versatile setting.


Will said...

This sounds like a very streamlined version of the Star Wars d20 Revised Core Rules vehicle combat system. It was a really good system. One additional rule they had -- which I think is good with any sort of maneuverability system -- is that you could make a pilot check to overcome some of the limitations of your vehicle. There was a penalty based on the vehicle's size and agility, and DCs for things like getting extra 45-degree turns, turning on a dime (turning without going forward 1 square first), and acceleration/deceleration beyond your normal limits. It was a very straightforward way to account for skilled pilots and unskilled pilots within the same framework of movement restrictions.

Anonymous said...

love the book...

only quibble so far is that it seems the specs for all the starships seem one sided...wheres the view of the other side of the battlefleet...
the massive planet bombing r'tillek dreadnoughts?

racial technology is somewhat a staple in some sci fi...although i suppose stat wise they would be the same.

looking fwd to more from you in the future.