#Wargame Retroactive – Mayday (Traveller Game 1, Series 120, GDW 1983)

pic900819_mdWhile I’m waiting for my Squadron Strike: Traveller Kickstarter to deliver, I went back to my first vector movement starship combat game. The game is Mayday from the Classic Traveller RPG-universe. I have the third edition GDW flat box, copyright 1983, with the Series 120 rulebook copyright 1978 and 1980. A Series 120 game was supposed to be playable in under two hours. The back of the box taught me what mayday means and why it may still matter in the future:

 

In the earliest days of radio, a standard distress call was established using the international language of the day. In French, the simple statement help me was expressed m’ai dez. English-speaking radio operators pronounced and spelled the word as mayday. Since then, the word has become as accepted as its Morse code predecessor S.O.S.

In the future, it is likely that monitoring stations will receive the same call from the depths of interplanetary space, faintly repeating a position and a single word, mayday.

Mayday is a science fiction game of small spacecraft in danger, distress, and ship-to-ship combat. The ships are out-fitted by each player with a variety of laser weapons, missiles, defensive systems, and computer packages. Using realistic vector movement, players maneuver their ships against each other on a hexagonal grid. Scenarios include The Grand Prix, The Attack, Piracy, Battle, and Smuggling.

Mayday is played “using realistic vector movement and intriguing combat systems….” Recently, I closely looked through the short (15 page), digest-size rulebook and was struck by both how simple the game was, and yet how much detail and universe-building was contained within.

A Small-Ship Universe

pic514041_mdMayday was also marketed as Traveller Game 1. Mayday took Traveller Book 2 Starships and brought it into a hex and counter setting. What struck me looking through the book is that Mayday is firmly in the “small ship Traveller universe.” Section 8. Ships provides the following starships:

  • Scout (100 ton)
  • Courier (100 ton)
  • Escort (100 ton)
  • Free Trader (200 ton)
  • Yacht (200 ton)
  • Transport (400 ton)
  • Armed Merchant (400 ton)
  • Destroyer (400 ton)
  • Colonial Cruiser (800 ton)
  • Corsair (400 ton)

Small craft are also fuel-limited in Mayday. The Fighter is rated “4G12” meaning it has a maximum acceleration of 4G in a turn, and cannot make more that a total of 12G of acceleration/deceleration before running out of fuel.

Vectoring About

Mayday is the game the taught me what vector movement is. Each starship, small craft, or missile has three counters; the past position, the present position, and the future position. The use of these three counters allows one to readily see the vector movement of the combatants. This easy vector movement system is what I had always focused upon and I didn’t really pay attention to the combat.

Lasers and Missiles Oh My!

In the Mayday version of the Traveller universe there are basically two offensive weapons; Lasers and Missiles. Of the two, the Laser is the most common starship and small craft weapon. However, a close analysis of the Attack Table and Damage Table reveals it is actually not the best weapon. Without consideration of any modifiers, a Laser will hit a starship 58% of the time, whereas a Missile will hit 83% of the time. Against small craft, the chances are 42% for Lasers and 58% for Missiles.

pic516813_mdLasers are also very close-range weapons realistically effective out to no more than 5 hexes (or 5 light seconds). This is because Laser Fire has a -1 Die Modifier (DM) for each hex of range. [Interestingly, Mayday page 12 references Traveller Book 5: High Guard and its fleet combat rules. The Mayday rules state that ships with matched courses (same hex, course, speed) are at “boarding range.” Short range is within 5 hexes (5 light seconds). Long range is beyond 5 hexes, but less than 15. Ships beyond 15 hexes/15 light seconds range are “out of range” and cannot fire.]

The damage potential of a Laser versus a Missile is also dramatically different. If a “hit” is achieved a Laser gets one roll on the Damage Table whereas a Missile gets two rolls if it has a proximity fuse or three rolls (!) if it uses contact detonation. This dramatic difference in damage potential finally brought home to me, more than any number of damage dice, the difference in the power of these two weapons systems in Traveller. It also vividly showed me why Missiles are the weapon of choice for starship combat at the mid-tech levels of Traveller.

Computing Power

Many people criticize the assumptions Traveller made when it came to computers. Marc Miller and company missed with their prediction of the computer revolution. For myself I tend to ignore the inconsistencies with our reality and try to play the game. In the case of starship combat, I think the problems are not as dire as some make them out to be. Instead, I try to play the game using the rules as written to see what the designers were trying to communicate.

In Mayday, like Book 2, computers are actually a key part of ship-to-ship combat. This is because Traveller computers are limited. For example, a Model/1 computer has a “CPU” of 2 and “Storage” of 4. What does this mean? It means that the ship can “load” programs taking up space equal to “Storage” and can “run” programs in a given phase of the turn with sizes the “CPU” can support.

Take a typical Free Trader with a Model/1 computer. According to the ship description, the available computer programs (and size) are:

  • Target 1, Launch 1, Gunner Interact 1, Auto/Evade 1, Return Fire 1, Anti-Missle 2, Maneuver 1,  Jump-1 1, Navigation 1.

No more than 6 “spaces” of programs can be loaded. As you can hopefully see, not all the programs can be “loaded” at once. Thus, the crew must make a decision.

  • Target is needed to shoot, unless one wants a -4 DM for “manual control”
  • Maneuver is needed to change course/speed.
  • Launch is needed to fire missiles…or a small craft
  • Gunner Interact allows characters to use their Gunnery skill (one of the few connections between Mayday and the Traveller RPG)
  • Auto/Evade makes you harder to hit, but cannot be run with the Maneuver program
  • Return Fire must be used with Target and allows ships to fire at ships/craft that fired at them first
  • Anti-Missile is used for point defense against impacting missiles
  • Jump is needed to activate the FTL (hyperspace) drive…useful to escape
  • Navigation is needed to compute the hyperspace jump

There are other programs available, such as Predict (positive DM to hit), Selective (ability to target specific systems), and Maneuver/Evade (harder to hit but less maneuver capability).

Making sure you have the right program available at the right time is crucial for combat in Mayday. For many years I ignored this section and just played with the Simplified Computer Rule:

Any activity may be performed, without regard  to computer program requirements. The size of the ship’s computer is used as an attack DM for lasers (computer model 1 gives a DM of +1) and as a defense DM when attacked by lasers. DMs for range, sand effects, manual control, and anti-missile fire still apply, but no others do. This simplified rule allows concentration on movement and basic combat. 6. Computer Programming (p. 9)

Simply Complex

Mayday is what I call a “simply complex” game. The rules are simple, from easy vector movement to a straight-forward combat system. Taking into account the computer rules really does make this game “intriguing” like the rulebook claims, and that makes it complex in that the choices one makes are relevant, interesting, and impactful. I also appreciate the insight this simple game gives me into the universe building that Marc Miller and friends started 40 years ago.

Mayday is currently rated 5.8 on BoardGameGeek. I personally rated it a 7 (Good – Usually willing to play) back in 2008 when I think I was updating my collection. Given my more recent appreciation for the game, I think it deserves a rating increase to 7.5.

 

 

#RPGThursday Retrospective – Marc Miller’s Traveller (Imperium Games, Inc., 1996)

The 1990’s was a very dark time of my RPG history. I only bought three games in the entire decade, all of them science fiction-based. Prime Directive 1st Edition was the first and Marc Miller’s Traveller 4th Edition (T4) the second. Later I added The Babylon Project.

I had been a longtime Traveller player using the (now) Classic Traveller (CT) system from the late 1970’s and 1980’s. I had stopped buying RPGs in 1986, and missed out on MegaTraveller (MT) in 1987 and Traveller: The New Era (TNE) in 1992. As such, I missed just how much Traveller changed, with each edition not only using a different core mechanic but also covering a different milieu.

In the first section, The History of Traveller, Kenneth E. Whitman Jr. (now the infamous Ken Whitman) relates the five goals Marc Miller has for this new, 20th anniversary edition:

  1. A return to the similar structure of Classic Traveller while allowing for multiple levels of complexity depending on the needs and interests of individual players and referees.

  2. The production of a game design that encourages and promotes the fun of playing an enjoyable, exciting background.

  3. The opening of multiple eras or milieus to facilitate playing the Traveller science-fiction game system throughout the span of history, from 300,000 BC to 5,000 years in the future.

  4. Remaining consistent with previous editions in regards to historical events and game system results. Previous history as provided in any edition of Traveller stays largely the same in this edition, with certain details clarified or re-stated for consistency.

  5. Explicitly stating a standard of quality that promotes wholesome adventure and eliminates sexually-flavored art or content, unacceptable or vulgar language, and gratuitous, unnecessary violence. – p. 5

I don’t remember ever reading #5 before, and looking back in the mid-1990’s I apparently was blissfully unaware of whatever controversy this relates to.

The next section of T4, The Foundations of the Traveller Universe, lays out the themes of the setting background. I find it interesting that three types of players are addressed:

Casual Players: Anybody can play Traveller. The concepts are intuitive: travel, exploration, interaction, negotiation, combat, and all kinds of action. Individuals can role-play diverse characters or they can play themselves. Casual players can be so casual that they know nothing about the game system at all.

Detailed Role-Players: Traveller provides dedicated gamers the opportunity to role-play complex characters with strong motivations and intricate backgrounds. The Traveller system can be as informal or rich as the participants want.

System Engineers: The Traveller system presents referees the materials necessary to explore [the] Traveller universe in detail. Aspects such as starship design, world generation, vehicle descriptions, trade and commerce, animal generation, and encounters, are designed to meet two specific goals; as a prod to the imagination, and for creating custom equipment or information. – p. 8

I think most outsiders commonly see Traveller RPG players as only System Engineers!

After the obligatory “what is roleplaying” section, the book moves to character generation. In T4, there is virtually no difference in the character generation process from the CT-era. In keeping with goal #1, there are only 10 careers presented (an 11th, Psionisist, appears later).

Skills presents a very familiar list of skills and skill cascades along with Default (Level-0) Skills. I think this was the first time I recognized Level-0 skills in playing Traveller, and welcomed the addition of skills inherently simple enough to attempt without any formal training.

The heart of T4 was the next section, Tasks. Here I ran into problems. When reading through the brand-new T4 back then, I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t find the rule for “roll 2d6>8 for success.” That was because T4 uses a different task resolution system, one that involved four separate elements:

  • A target number – typically a skill matched with a primary attribute.
  • A dice code appropriate to the innate difficulty of the task.
  • The possibility of one or more difficulty modifiers, reflecting factors influencing the event, such as bonuses for helpful equipment or penalties for troublesome conditions.
  • Finally, the result, whether a success or failure, and the possible spectacular result. (p. 49)

The Target Number is really quite simple; add Primary Attribute plus Skill. For success, the player had to roll this number OR LESS. The Dice Code assigned difficulty and then gave the appropriate dice pool to be rolled. This was confusing because some difficulties, like Staggering, called for 3.5D. What was a .5D? Unfortunately the definition of a half-die was not in Tasks, but all the way back on p. 13 under Definition of Terms for Die or Dice. Difficulty Modifiers were often for equipment or environment and usually associated with an item or condition specified in the book. The modifiers change the Target Number. I also was confused at Uncertain Tasks which called for the Referee to roll dice for the players! Finally, the Result was usually a binary Pass/Fail condition, although Spectacular Results hinted at extraordinary outcomes. The rules specified the referee would decide the extent of the result, with player input welcome but not required. This was in keeping with the low player agency approach Traveller has always had.

In theory (and play), the T4 Task System is very easy. Making an Admin check to see if your paperwork passes? Lets see, Skill -1 plus Education 7 is a Target Number of 8. Referee says its an average (2D) check with no other modifiers. Roll 2D  for a 7 – Success!

Ground Combat uses the same basic approach except that range determines difficulty. Shooting a target at Short Range is a Difficult (2.5D) task. Depending upon the weapon, one might get a bonus if it is capable of shooting at longer ranges. Damage is given in whole die increments, with armor negating dies of damage.

Equipment, Surface Vehicles, Spacecraft, Space Travel, Psionics, World Generation, and Encounters all would of been familiar to CT players with two exceptions. Spacecraft used a new ship design sequence, called the Quick Ship Design Sequence (QSDS). Much like the old CT Book 2, this is a very modularized, building block, seemingly assembly-line ship design sequence focused on simplicity. These days I understand it was a radical change from the exceedingly complex and detailed Fire, Fusion, & Steel of TNE. The second change was in Space Combat. The ship-to-ship combat game focused on Adventure-class ships and was a mix of CT Book 2 and CT Book 5 High Guard. Again, this was a great step down from detailed TNE ship combat systems like Brilliant Lances or Battle Rider.

Section 14: Referee’s Introduction, actually includes rules for Skill Improvement, Learning, and Improving Characteristics. Coming once again from my CT background, these were dramatic changes that shocked me (as welcome as they were). There is also the obligatory Running Adventures and Campaigns which I too often skip. The next section, Trade and Commerce, is very near the familiar trade system of CT.

T4 includes two sample adventures. I didn’t pay much attention to these, instead focusing on the map for the Core Subsector in Milieu 0. I also closely read the updated Library Data.

What I Though of It Then – When I first read T4 I was lost. So much was the same as CT yet the core mechanic was totally different. That difference was enough to lose me. In those days, I was a concrete learner when it came to RPG mechanics. I was closed minded to nearly anything other than 2d6. Part of this was sci-fi elitism; I didn’t play d20 D&D because 2D6 sci-fi was far superior! At the same time, T4 was not different enough from CT to make me want to dig much deeper. I was also very comfortable with the Golden Era of the Third Imperium setting – I didn’t feel the need to explore Milieu 0 or any other alternative setting. Thus, T4 was put on the shelf and remained untouched.

What I Think of It Now – Over the years, T4 got a reputation of being a “hot mess.” Often times, this criticism revolves around poor editing of books or rules that seemingly contradict themselves. The criticism is justified at times; when reviewing the core book for this retrospective I found numerous cross-referencing errors, especially in the combat examples. Production values of the books were suspect. The layout is very unimaginative and many people feel the use of Chris Foss’ color art was not appropriate for the Traveller setting. T4 is seen as a useless edition and not worthy of even being talked about.

These days I take a more charitable view. In looking at the five goals set out in the book, I think T4 actually succeeds. This was probably a disappointment to those System Engineer players who seemingly want more detail. Part of why I love Traveller is that the world-building system is internally consistent and generally works together across a broad spectrum of equipment and information. I see T4 as aimed at the more Casual Player with a nod towards Detailed Role-Players. This iteration of Traveller steps back from the System Engineer dominance of TNE and it shows through the simplification of the rules. I also happen to be a fan of Chris Foss, and absolutely love his spaceships.

As much as T4 tried to embrace Casual Players, and entice Detailed Role-Players, the system ultimately suffers from a lack of narrative control and dampened player agency. The referee is clearly in charge in T4, like he has been since Classic Traveller. This lack of narrative access, combined with a reduction in System Engineer game subsystems, is what I think really doomed T4. It is very interesting to look at the 2008 release of Mongoose Traveller (MgT) and see just how much T4 and MgT are alike. Of course, MgT uses the classic 2d6 mechanic – maybe that made all the difference.

From an RPG-perspective, I give Marc Miller’s Traveller 4th Edition Totally Subjective Game Rating (Scale of 1-5):

  • System Crunch = 2 (Highly simplified mechanics)
  • Simulationist = 3 (Consistent world-building game systems)
  • Narrativism = 2 (Few concessions to narrative play; low player agency)

Marc Miller’s Traveller, Copyright (c) 1996 by Imperium Games, Inc. Traveller is a registered trademark of Far Future Enterprises. Used under license by Imperium Games, Inc. 

“The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977-2015 Far Future Enterprises.”

#TravellerRPG Mongoose 2nd Edition Beta – Halloween Update

In late October, Mongoose dropped another update to their Mongoose Traveller Second Edition (Beta) Core Rulebook. They dropped a .doc version of High Guard (starship construction rules). They had already dropped a .doc version of Central Supply Catalog (CSC for ironmongery and vehicles) earlier in the month. With these three “books,” the core rules for MgT2E is pretty much complete.

My verdict so far: “I’m whelmed.”

In the Core Rulebook, one of the biggest changes was to the core mechanic through the introduction of “Boon/Bane.” This mechanic called for a roll of 3d6 and selecting either the highest two die (Boon) or lowest two die (Bane) for your roll. The first draft tried to put Boon/Bane in many places but resulted in many confusing rules contradictions. In later drafts Boon/Bane remains but is a shadow of its former self and seemingly now treated as a far-off optional house rule that isn’t necessary for the game.

The other major change was to ship construction since ships now have power requirements. Although this change has good roleplaying potential (“Need more power, Scotty!”) it also adds more complexity to the ship construction rules which we finally get to see in the High Guard draft. At this point, I am not sure the additional roleplaying or combat limitations that ships power production and uses have actually make the game that-much-more interesting.

So now I have to ask myself, “What makes MgT2E different and better than first edition?” At first I would have answered with “an updated core mechanic and more detailed ship combat rules.” Now I see a core mechanic not far from 1st Edition (or even Classic Traveller) and new ships power rules that don’t really add much to the game.

The Traveller RPG has always been a series of smaller games (character generation, personal combat, vehicle and ship combat, world building, trade, etc.) that (fairly) smoothly integrated together to make a rich and robust play experience. Mongoose embraced this approach with their First Edition, but seemed to be stepping away from that approach in later publications. One has to look no further than Mercenary 2nd Edition (confusingly part of the First Edition rules) where Mongoose dropped the Mercenary Ticket generation system and tried to make a Mass Combat system based onto personal combat rules. IT DIDN”T WORK. So far, MgT2E seems to be carrying on that line of rules development.

As a Beta purchaser, Mongoose promised a $20 voucher towards the final product. It will be interesting to see if the final product comes in at $19.99 or if it will be more. Mongoose tends to be on the expensive side and that is part of the reason I usually throw my money towards smaller publishers like Gyspy Knights Games. The smaller publishers seem more affordable – and an overall better value – than Mongoose has been to me in the past.

Wargame Wednesday – Escorts and Screening in High Guard

Courtesy elder-geek.com

“Escorts are vessels intended to protect and assist larger vessels. They are capable of independent action, but are usually assigned to support battleships and cruisers.” (Fighting Ships of the Shattered Imperium, GDW, 1990, p. 66)

“Escorts keep smaller enemy vessels away from high-value units, preventing the enemy from conducting effective reconnaissance or launching a strike with one-shot weapons….Fleet escorts such as the PF Sloan class are intended to accompany heavier ships and to intercept light craft and missiles headed for the high-value units…close escorts shelter under the big guns of a larger ship and in turn protects it from attack by light craft…being quite capable of destroying incoming fighters or gunships.” (Sector Fleet, Avenger Enterprises 2010, pp. 24-25).

Canonical material from Traveller defines a role for escorts, but the Classic Traveller High Guard combat system does not recognize or enable their use in a similar manner. The Battle Formation Step establishes two lines (Line of Battle and Reserve) and in the Combat Step, the ships are placed in order from largest to smallest and presented to combat in that order. The rules specify that “each battery on a ship may fire once in  the turn, either offensively against another ship, or defensively against incoming fire (High Guard p. 40). My usual interpretation has been that each ship fires defensively against incoming fire only aimed against it. The result here is that smaller ships get lost in the larger battle.

I am experimenting with assigning screens for ships. In the Battle Formation Step, as each ship is placed in either the Line or Reserve, up to two other ships are declared as “escorts” for the ship by being placed underneath/behind the screened ship. In the Combat Step, when the screened ship is presented as a target the screened ships are presented at the same time. The attacker has a choice of attacking the screened ship OR an escort. If attacking the escort, all attacking USP is reduced by 1 (“sheltered by the larger ship”), but the “effective agility” of  the escort is reduced by 1 also (“tied on”). If attacking the screened ship, the escorts can contribute defenses with a USP reduction of 1 (systems not optimized for defense of something other than itself). When the screened ship is the attacker, the escorts can also attack, but with a USP reduced by 2 (restricted in ability to maneuver).

Wargame Wednesday – High Guard Statistical Combat

Courtesy aerierroleplay.forumotion.com

In my quest to simplify Classic Traveller High Guard by using Fighter Squadrons I may have actually broken the game. Thanks to a further look at the Statistical Combat Resolution system from Classic Traveller Adventure 5: Trillion Credit Squadron (GDW, 1981, p.15) I can see my mistake.

What got me to reconsider was a section from Traveller’s Aide #9: Fighting Ships of the Solomani Confederation (Quiklink Interactive, 2009). The Assault on Depot saw nearly 1000 Imperial Grigrot fighters involved. In particular:

“Another 400 Grigrots went directly for the Solomani line, attacking a Yamamoto class Strike Cruiser. 64 hits were scored, leaving the Strike Cruiser dead in the water and with multiple weapons and fuel hits.” (TAS 9, p. 12)

This looked to be a perfect example of using the Statistical Combat Resolution. Indeed, when I ran the numbers, it yielded 67 hits (close). Additionally, 10 Sandcaster batteries in defense will stop a further 3 hits from penetrating for a total of 64 penetrating hits (surprise!). Using the Statistical Combat Resolution system to derive damage, one gets 2x Weapon-2, 4x Maneuver-1, 21x Fuel-1, and 37x Weapon-1 damage. This degree of damage can easily be described as “dead in the water and with multiple weapons and fuel hits.”

So feeling a bit smug, I tried the same attack using my Fighter Squadrons system. The attack USP goes from 5 to 7 in this case, making the To Hit 5 with a DM of (Computer -1, Relative Agility +1, Size +1) +1. Using the Statistical Combat Resolution system the 40 squadrons attacking will score 7 hits. The 10 defending Sandcaster batteries stop 1 attack, leaving 6 penetrating hits (4x Weapon-1, 2xFuel-1). This is less than 10% of the damage using the rules-as written. That doesn’t work!

So at the end of the day I think the best approach to using large numbers of fighters is NOT the fighter squadron concept as I envisioned it. Instead, I may have to consider a mechanic that assumes that any hit in a fighter renders it a “Mission Kill” and have a system in the Terminal Step to determine just how many of those Mission Kill fighters are actually lost and how many are recovered and repaired to fight another battle.

RPG Thursday- Skills in Classic Traveller High Guard

Courtesy Star Wars Wiki

Classic Traveller Book 5 – High Guard (HG) is part of the Traveller RPG family, yet the Starship Combat rules are very light on using player skills. It becomes all the more surprising given author’s statement on p. 44 under Starship Combat – Individuals where he says, “The skills of individual participants in a battle may affect its outcome, and the reverse is certainly true” (HG, p. 44). The rules go on to state that skills of player characters (PCs), if sufficiently high, may have a noticeable effect on the battle. Assuming the average skill level is two, higher skills are useful in four cases in the rules as written:

  • Fleet Tactics affects initiative
  • Ships Tactics affects performance and can enhance a ship’s effective computer rating
  • Pilot/Ship’s Boat affects maneuver and again can enhance agility (HG, p. 44).

A review of Book 1 and Book 5 reveals several other skills that could have an effect on starship combat; Engineering, Gunnery, and Navigation , as well as Medical and Tactics (for the Ship’s Troops or Marines). So let’s take a new look at using skills in HG, combining a bit of plagiarism of the existing rules with some newer concepts.

Skills in High Guard – Alternate System

Skills. The skills of player characters, if sufficiently higher than average, may have a noticeable effect on the battle. The average skill level of a non-player character in their assigned job (and hence the background level of the combat system) is assumed to be two. Higher skill levels can be useful in certain  cases:

  • Battle Formation Step: The Fleet Commander with the higher Fleet Tactics skill places his ships in Battle Formation second. If both players have the same Fleet Tactics skill then both form their fleet simultaneously
  • Initiative Determination Step: The Fleet Tactics skill level of the Fleet Commander is a + modifier to the initiative die roll
  • Pre-Combat Decision Step: The skill level of a ship’s Maneuvering Drive Engineer may affects its Emergency Agility; subtract one from the Engineering skill level of the ship’s Maneuvering Drive Engineer, divide by two, and drop the fraction; the result is used as a + modifier to the ship’s effective agility
  • Combat Step: Skills that may affect combat are:
    • Ship’s Tactics – The skill level of a ship’s (or small craft/fighter’s) captain affects its performance; subtract one from the Ship’s Tactics skill level of the captain and divide by two, dropping fractions; the result is used as a + modifier to the ship’s effective computer level (a computer Model/5 is treated as a Model/6); the computer must be working at least at level 1 for this modifier to apply
    • Pilot/Ship’s Boat – The skill level of the ship’s/craft’s/fighter’s command pilot affects its maneuver;  subtract one from the Pilot/Ship’s Boat skill level of the command pilot and divide by two, dropping fractions; the result is used as a + modifier to the ship’s/craft’s/fighter’s effective agility; the agility must be at least one for this modifier to apply
    • Engineering – The skill level of the ship’s Power Plant Engineer may affect its performance; subtract one from the Engineering skill level of the ship’s Chief Power Plant Engineer and divide by two, dropping fractions; the result is used as a + modifier to the ship’s effective agility; the agility must be at least one for this modifier to apply
    • Gunnery – The skill level of a battery’s Chief Gunner may affect its performance; for offensive weapons subtract one from the Gunnery skill level of the Battery Chief Gunner and divide by two, dropping fractions; the result is used as both a + DM Allowed To Hit and a – modifier for the Ship Damage Tables; for weapons used defensively (sandcasters, missiles or beams, and screens) the result is used as a + modifier to the effective USP  – with a maximum USP 9 – of the defending battery when the firing unit determines penetration
  • Pursuit Step:
    • Pilot/Ship’s Boat – The skill level of the command pilot affects it agility in the same manner as in the Combat Step
    • Engineering – The skill level of a PURSUING ship’s Maneuvering Drive Engineer may affects its agility; subtract one from the Engineering skill level of the ship’s Maneuvering Drive Engineer, divide by two, and drop the fraction; the result is used as a + modifier to the ship’s effective agility (Note that the Engineering skill for ESCAPING ships is affected in the Pre-Combat Decision Step)
    • Navigation – The skill level of the Chief Navigator may also affect the ship’s escape – subtract one from the Navigation skill of the Chief Navigator and divide by two, dropping fractions; the result is used as a + modifier to the ship’s effective agility; the agility must be at least one for this modifier to apply
  • Terminal Step: Several skills are applicable to actions taken during the Terminal Step:
    • Tactics – Used by Ship’s Troops or Marines during Boarding Action Resolution; subtract one from the Tactics skill level of the Ship’s Troops/Marine Commander, divide by two, dropping fractions; the result is used as a + modifier for the Boarding Action Resolution roll; at least one section of boarders (5 Marines/10 Ship’s Troops/50 Crew) must be used in the boarding action for this modifier to apply
    • Medical – The skill level of the ship’s Chief Medical Officer can be used to restore crew casualties (including Ship’s Troops or Marines); subtract one from the Medical skill of the Chief Medical Officer, divide by two, dropping fractions; the result is the number of crew sections (or 5 Marines/10 Ship’s Troops)  returned to duty after four turns; this action may used twice in battle – once to restore a crew section and once to restore 5 Marines/10 Ship’s Troops
    • Engineering – The skill level of the Chief Engineer can affect Damage Control and Repair; for each repair attempt subtract one from the Engineering skill level of the Chief Engineer, divide by two, dropping fractions; the result is a  + modifier on the repair attempt

Wargame Wednesday – Fighter Squadrons in Classic Traveller High Guard

Black Prophesy Cockpit Detail (Courtesy rockpapershotgun.com)

Classic Traveller Book 5: High Guard (HG), has starship combat rules for fighting fleet actions. One part of the rules that has always bothered me is the Unit Scale for small craft and fighters. Unit scale is defined on p. 38:

Units represented are individual ships, small craft, and fighters. (HG p. 38)

This unit scale may work in a small ship universe or when using High Guard to play out an Adventure Class Ship battle, but it can quickly break down when playing large fleet actions with many small craft or fighters. Traveller’s Aide #9: Fighting Ships of the Solomani Confederation has the large Midway-class carrier that brings 1500 fighters to a battle. By a strict interpretation of HG, this means a Midway brings 1500 units to the battle. To call that unmanageable is an understatement!

In an effort to make fighters more manageable, I have experimented with Fighter Squadrons. A fighter squadron is a group of 10 fighters (or small craft) that fight as a single unit. Thus, a Midway-class carrier would bring 150 fighter squadrons to battle; still a large number but better than the 1500!

To create a fighter squadron you need to know:

  • Tech Level
  • Weapon and mounting (single/double/triple)
  • Computer
  • Agility
  • Armor
  • Reloads (Missiles and Sand)

For example, a Solomani Viper fighter (TA9, p. 44), is Tech Level 13, carries a single plasma weapon, has Computer 2, Agility 6, and 9 armor. It has no missile or sand and hence no reloads.

A fighter squadron can be represented by a group of 10 boxes (I use 2-rows of 5-boxes each). Using the Turret Weapons Table on  p. 25 of High Guard, determine the USP for 10 of the given weapons and put that in the left uppermost box. Using the Turret Weapons Table, continue filling in the boxes assigning a USP code to the boxes appropriate to number of weapons from the table.

Still using the Viper, 10 Plasma Guns on the Turret Weapons Table gives a USP of 3, with a TL Mod +2 if TL is 12 or greater. Thus, the Viper starts with a USP 5 in the left uppermost box. When there are four boxes/fighters left the USP drops to 4, and the last box/fighter has a USP of 3. The fighter name, a squadron identifier, the weapon, computer, agility, and armor are added around the hit boxes as fit.

Fighter Squadrons are considered a Unit as defined in High Guard Starship Combat, Scale (p. 38).

Fighter Squadron  in Combat. Fighter squadrons in combat use a slightly modified Combat Step procedure:

  • DMs Allowed to Hit (HG p. 45)
    • + relative computer size
    • RELATIVE target agility rating 
    • The Target Size DM for fighter squadrons is -1 when fired upon by ships and 0 when fired upon by other fighter squadrons (Dogfights)
    • If multiple fighter squadrons combine in an attack on a single ship, +1 is added to the Target Size DM (To Hit) for every two full-strength squadrons combining in the attack (maximum DM of +3)
  • DMs Allowed to Penetrate remain unchanged (HG p. 45)

Design Comment – Since we are dealing with groups of fighters the use of relative agility rating reflects the ability of fighters to cooperate to bring a target under their guns while the target size modifier is changed since an attack against a fighter squadron is against aspread-out group of fighters and not an individual craft. When attacking a ship, the more fighter squadrons used the more chances there are to “box the ship in” making it harder to evade fire.

Fighter Squadrons and Damage. When determining damage TO OR FROM a fighter squadron, all DMs for the Ship Damage Tables are used EXCEPT #2  (If the weapon inflicting the hit has a factor of 9 or less, apply a DM of +6) (HG p. 48).

The following alternate Explanation of Damage Results (HG, p. 49) is used for all damage to fighter squadrons:

  • Any Critical Hit or Interior Explosion destroys one fighter (completely mark one box off); a fighter destroyed in this manner is not subject to post-battle recovery
  • Any Hit-n destroys one fighter for each n; fighters destroyed in this manner are subject to post-battle recovery
  • The USP used for combat is the USP found in the highest UNDESTROYED box
    • For example, in the Viper squadron above, an undamaged squadron has a USP of 5; once a single fighter has been destroyed the attack USP drops to 4 and when the squadron is reduced to 3 fighters the USP drops to 3. 

Design Comment – To streamline fighter combat, I want to avoid tracking individual hit results; hence no Maneuver or Weapon hits or the like. As will be seen later, a “destroyed” fighter may actually have been able to limp off but, regardless of what happens post-battle, in combat it is effectively a Mission Kill.

Fighter Squadrons and Breaking Off. Fighter squadrons which Break Off by Acceleration (HG, p. 39) and are not pursued (HG p. 41) no longer participate in the battle. If using Adventure 5: Trillion Credit Squadron, fighter squadrons that break off by acceleration DO NOT flee to the Outer System (TCS p. 38). Fighter squadrons that flee by acceleration cannot land on a carrier/mothership or otherwise be recovered unless a suitable landing/recovery location is present in the inner system and not in the battle they just fled from.

Fighter Squadron End of Battle Procedure. Once all combat is complete, roll 1d6 for each destroyed fighter (unless destroyed by a Critical Hit or Internal Explosion). On a roll of 6 the fighter is actually recovered  – the destroyed fighter may have not been able to participate in combat but still managed to limp home – and more importantly the pilot is recovered too. The following modifiers can be applied:

  • +n per each level of Pilot/Small Craft Skill (if using RPG characters)
  • +1 if recovering force was “last in the battle space,” or otherwise controls the area of space the battle took place in
  • This step does NOT mean that if a fighter squadron is abandoned by its carrier/mothership it can miraculously be recovered. If the battle ended with the fighter squadron having no place to go, it can surrender or is destroyed.

Combat Example – Dogfight

During the Solomani Rim War, the Imperials launch a strike using fighters on a small listening station. The Imperial Fighter Strike Force is composed of a single squadron of Likuurka bombers (TL 13, Triple Missile USP 7 (100 shots), Computer 2, Agility 2, Armor 13) escorted by a single squadron of Grigot fighters (TL 14, Fusion Gun USP 7, Computer 6, Agility 6, Armor 14). The listening post is defended by two squadrons of Solomani Viper Fighters (TL 13, Plasma Gun USP 5, Computer 3, Agility 6, Armor 9).

The battle will be played in at least five rounds; rounds 1 and 2 represent the approach battle with the bombers unable to strike the listening post until round 3 at the earliest. The listening post is destroyed if 3 or more hits are scored. Once 2 withdraw rounds are fought the Imperial fighters will rendezvous with their carrier squadron.

Round 1 (Approach)

Given that the first round is always played at long range, the Imperials place the Grigot Fighter (GF) and Likuurka Bomber (LB) in the Line. The Solomani places both Viper squadrons (VF1/VF2) in the line. Initiative goes to the Solomani; range is Long (automatic).

LB vs VF1: Missile USP 7 -To Hit is 3. DMs to Hit -1 Computer, -4 Agility (Total -5). Die roll is 8 – HIT. There is no penetration roll. Nuclear missiles rolls on both the Surface Damage Explosion and Radiation Damage Tables; DMs for Ship Damage are +9 (Armor) and -6 on Surface Explosion Table. Surface Damage roll of 4 modified +3 for 9 results in Maneuver-1. Radiation Damage Table DM is +9, roll is 7 modified to 16 – Weapon-2. Total of 3 fighters destroyed in VF1 leaving an attack USP of 4.

Round 2 (Approach)

Though the Likuurka destroyed a few Solomani fighters in the first approach round, the Imperial Strike leader decides the bombers need to be protected and preserved for the strike on the listening post. The Imperial fighters go in the Line while the bombers move to Reserve. The Solomani place both VF1 and VF2 in the Line. Initiative goes to the Solomani; the range is Short. Both VF1 and VF2 attack the Grigot fighter squadron.

VF1 vs GF: Plasma Gun USP 4 – To Hit 6. DMs to Hit -3 Computer, +0 Agility (Total -3). Die roll is  8 – NO HIT.

VF2 vs GF:  Plasma Gun USP 5  – To Hit 6. DMs to Hit -3 Computer, +0 Agility (Total -3). Die roll is 12 – HIT. No penetration roll. DMs on Surface Explosion Damage Table is +14 (Armor). Die roll is 8 modified to 22 – No Effect.

GF vs VF1: Fusion Gun USP 7 – To Hit 5. DMs to Hit +3 Computer, +0 Agility (Total +3). Die roll  6 – HIT. Surface Damage DM +9 (Armor). Die roll 4 modified to 13 – Fuel-1. One fighter destroyed. VF1 is down to six fighters with and attack USP 4.

Round 3 (Target Area)

Having arrived in the Target Area, the Imperial player places both the Grigot fighters and his bombers in the Line. VF1 and VF2 also remain in the Line. Initiative is to Imperials, and the range is Short (Comment – It would actually have been best to make the range Long and allow the Imperials to use his missiles to attack the listening post without fear of fighter attack, but that would not have used the dogfight rules, so for the purposes of this example the Listening Post is “stealthed” and must be attacked st Short range.)

VF1 vs LB: Plasma Gun USP 4 – To Hit 6. DMs to Hit +1 Computer, +4 Agility (Total +5). Die roll is 6 – HIT. Surface Damage DM of +13 (Armor). Die roll is 6 modified to 19 – Fuel-1. One bomber is destroyed.

VF2 vs LB: Plasma Gun USP 5 – To Hit 6. DMs to Hit +1 Computer, +4 Agility (Total +5). Die roll 10 – HIT. Surface Damage DM of +13 (Armor). Die roll is 7 modified to 20 – Weapon-1. LB loses a second bomber.

GF vs VF1: Fusion Gun USP 7 – To Hit 5. DMs to Hit +3 Computer, +0 Agility (Total +3). Die roll 12 – HIT. Surface Damage DM +9 (Armor). Die roll 4 modified to 13 – Fuel-1. VF1 loses another fighter and has five remaining; attack USP remains at 4.

LB vs Listening Post: The bombers score enough hits to destroy the Listening Post; the Imperials can withdraw.

Round 4 (Withdraw)

VF1 and VF2 pursue the now withdrawing Imperials. VF1 and 2 are in the Line while while the Grigot fighters are placed in the Line while the bombers are placed in the Reserve. Imperials get the initiative and declare the range as Long. The Imperial fighters and bombers also declare break off by acceleration with the bombers declaring Emergency Agility. No combat is possible since the fighters all use Energy Weapons and the bombers cannot attack from the ReserveIn the Pursuit Step, the bombers break off (effective agility 8 using Emergency Agility 6 raised by 2 in reserve) while the Vipers pursue the Grigot fighters successfully.

Round 5 (Withdraw)

This will be the last round fought unless the Solomani wants to continue pursuit and come under the guns of a squadron of Imperial ships. Both sides place all their fighter squadrons in the Line.  The Imperials gain the Initiative and chose Long range. Seeing the futility of further pursuit, knowing they are outclassed by the Grigots, and unwilling to come under the guns of the approaching Imperial carrier squadron, the Solomani fighters declare Break Off by Acceleration using Emergency Agility. The Imperial fighters decline to pursue and let the Viper squadrons go as the bombers are protected and they need to make their rendezvous.

Post Battle Recovery

After post-battle recovery actions, individual squadron status is:

  • Grigot Fighters – All fighters return to their carrier. No recovery rolls necessary
  • Likuurka Bombers – The Imperial player rolls to determine the final fate of the two lost bombers; no DMs are used and the rolls are 3 and 4 meaning both bombers are permanently lost
  • Viper Squadron 1 – The fate of the five lost fighters are determined; there is a DM of +1 since the recovery takes place in Solomani space after the Imperials have left; die rolls are 1, 6, 4, 4, 3 meaning even after modifiers only a single fighter is recovered returning VF1 to an effective strength of six fighters with an attack USP of 4.

Combat Example – Fighter Squadrons vs Ship

Following a major battle during the Solomani Rim War, a group of four Imperial Drayd-class fighters (TA7, p. 46) ambush a lone Solomani Standard System Defense Boat (TA9, p. 41) as it flees the main world for the system gas giant. The SDB will reach the gas giant in one hour (three combat rounds) at which time the SDB can plunge into the gas giant where the fighters cannot pursue.

Standard SDB Key Factors: Size 3, Computer 5, Agility 6, Fusion Gun USP 5, Missile Battery USP 3, Armor 13. 

Drayd Fighter: TL12, Pulse Laser USP 5, Computer 1, Agility 6, Armor 0.

Round 1

DF1-4 and SDB in Line. Initiative to Solomani. Range is Long (Automatic). DF1-4 combine in attack.

DF1-4 vs SDB: Pulse Laser USP 5 – To Hit 6. DMs to Hit -4 computer, -1 lasers at long range, +1 size (four squadrons combining attack causes two shifts from -1 to +1) (Total -4). Die rolls are 7, 10, 6, 6 – 1 HIT. No penetration roll (SDB has no Sand). DMs for Surface Damage are +13 armor, -2 Pulse Laser for a total of +11. Die roll is 9 modified to 20 – Weapon-1. The firing player elects to reduce the Missile Battery USP to 2.

SDB vs DF1: Missile USP 3 – To Hit 5 (damage takes place after combat). DMs to Hit +4 computer, -1 size (Total +3). Die roll 7 – HIT. No penetration roll. Using nuclear missiles the DMs for Ship Damage are +6 armor, -6 on Surface Explosion Damage. Surface Damage die roll of 7 modified to 7 is Fuel-3. Radiation Damage roll is 5 modified to 11 – Computer-2. DF1 loses five fighters and is reduced to an attack USP of 3.

Round 2

All units in the Line. Initiative to Imperials. Range is Short. DF1-4 combine in attack.

DF2-4 vs SDB: Pulse Laser USP 5 – To Hit 6. DMs to Hit -4 computer, +0 size (three full-strength squadrons combining attack causes one shifts from -1 to o) (Total -4). Die rolls are 7, 2, 4 – ALL MISS.

DF1 vs SDB: Pulse Laser USP 3 – To Hit 7. DMs to Hit -4 computer, +0 size (DF 1 -understrength- is still combining in an attack with three full-strength squadrons causing one shift from -1 to 0) (Total -4). Die roll 4 – MISS.

SDB vs DF1: Missile USP 2 – To Hit 7. DMs to Hit +4 computer,-1 missiles at short range, -1 size (Total +2). Die roll 8 – HIT. No penetration roll. Using nuclear missiles the DMs for Ship Damage are +6 armor, -6 on Surface Explosion Damage. Surface Damage die roll of 5 modified to 5 is Interior Explosion. Radiation Damage roll is 6 modified to 12 – Weapon-3. DF1 loses four more fighters (one of which will be unrecoverable) and is reduced to a single fighter with an attack USP of 2.

SDB vs DF2: Fusion Gun USP 5 – To Hit 6. DMs to Hit +4 computer, -1 size (Total +3). Die roll 9 – HIT. No penetration roll. Surface Explosion Damage DMs +6 armor. Die roll 11 modified to 17 – Weapon-1. DF2 loses one fighter and attack USP is reduced to 4.

Round 3

DF2-3 are in the Line, DF1 goes to Reserve. The SDB is in the Line. Initiative goes to the Imperials. Range is Short.

DF3 & 4 vs SDB: Pulse Laser USP 5 – To Hit 6/USP 4 – to Hit 6. DMs to Hit -4 computer, +0 size (two squadrons combining attack causes one shift from -1 to 0) (Total -4). Die rolls are 12, 8, 11 – 2 HITS. No penetration roll (SDB has no Sand). DMs for Surface Damage are +13 armor, -2 Pulse Laser for a total of +11. Die roll is 4, 7 modified to 15, 17 – Weapon-1, Weapon-1. The firing player reduces the Fusion Gun USP to 4 and the Missile USP to 1.

SDB vs DF2: Missile USP 2 – To Hit 7 (damage effects are latter). DMs to Hit +4 computer,-1 missiles at short range, -1 size (Total +2). Die roll 11 – HIT. No penetration roll. Using nuclear missiles the DMs for Ship Damage are +6 armor, -6 on Surface Explosion Damage. Surface Damage die roll of 4 modified to 4 is Interior Explosion. Radiation Damage roll is 8 modified to 14 – Weapon-2. DF2 loses three more fighters (one of which will be unrecoverable) and is reduced to six fighters with an attack USP of 4.

SDB vs DF2: Fusion Gun USP 5 – To Hit 6. DMs to Hit +4 computer, -1 size (Total +3). Die roll 5 – HIT. No penetration roll. Surface Explosion Damage DMs +6 armor. Die roll 7 modified to 11 – Weapon-2. DF2 loses two more fighters leaving only 4 and an attack USP of 3.

Round 4

There is no combat in Round 4 – the SDB reaches the gas giant and plunges in where the fighters cannot pursue. However, the SDB is damaged with a Fusion Gun USP of 4 and a Missile Battery USP of 1. In the post-battle recovery actions:

  • DF1: 1x fighter unrecoverable; roll for remaining eight at +1DM (Imperial-controlled space); results is 3x fighters/pilots recovered restoring DF1 to four fighters
  • DF2: 1x fighter unrecoverable; roll for remaining five at +1DM (Imperial-controlled space)  resulting in 2x fighters/pilots recovered restoring DF2 to six fighters
  • DF1 and DF2 are disestablished and combined into a new full-strength DF5 with 10 fighters
  • Given enough time, the SDB could use jury-rig repairs (see Damage Control and Repair, HG p. 44) to restore the Fusion Gun and Missile battery to full function, though as pointed out in the HG rules “these emergency repairs are jury-rigged and may not survive long under hard usage.”