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.”

RPG Thursday – A Retrospective Look at The Babylon Project

Courtesy RPG Geek

Not long ago, I was in a (sometimes) FLGS and saw a whole slew of Mongoose D20 Babylon 5 RPGbooks. Having seen this sit on the shelf for over a year, I approached the staff and was able to make a deal to get a nice discount on a bulk buy. All the books I purchased were source books covering races or campaigns; I don’t have the Mongoose Babylon 5 D20 rules nor do I want them given they were based on Dungeons & Dragon Third Edition. What I do have is Mongoose Traveller Universe of Babylon 5 and the much older Chameleon Eclectic Entertainment, Inc. The Babylon Project.

I actually didn’t remember much of The Babylon Project and never actually played it with a group.  I do remember thinking the combat system was “complicated.”  I recently took the time to reread the rules. In doing so, I now have to reconsider the game and give it more credit than I had previously.

In terms of production values, the book was ahead of its times. Full-color pages make it rich looking, even if some of the art is of marginal quality (a mix of photos from the series and artwork inspired by the same). Today people would scream for a low-ink version for print-at-home.

I remember not liking character generation. Of course, I had grown up on Classic Traveller  making many of the concepts in The Babylon Project seem foreign. Character generation in The Babylon Project uses a combination storytelling and point-buy approach and is done in three phases. In the first phase, the player uses storytelling aspects to create a character concept and basic history. This in turn leads to adjusting the 13 attributes that define your character. Attributes are rated 1-9 with each race having a typical attribute value. Players can adjust the typical attributes based on the concept and background but for every attribute raised another has to be lowered. The second phase – childhood – has the player answer another set of questions which guide picking Learned Skills and Characteristics (an early version of the Savage Worlds or Cortex System advantages/hindrances). This same process is repeated in a third phase – adulthood – which again gains Learned Skills and more (or changed) Characteristics. This system was very much NOT what I had grown up with in Traveller or my other RPGs of this time like FASA’s Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game or the first edition of Prime Directive. At the time, I think it was just too different for me to be comfortable; now I see it for what it is – a well thought out, guided, lifepath character generation system.

The adventure and campaign system focuses less on episodic events than on creation of a story arc. The Babylon Project certainly tries to match the grand, sweeping, epic feel of the series. The mechanic used is the Story Chart which the Gamemaster uses to loosely chart out the path of the campaign. The Story Chart uses four basic symbols to lay out an adventure:

  • Non-exclusive Chapters: Events which do not directly relate to other events in the story; can be worked into story almost any point to uncover key pieces of information, encounter non-critical NPCs, or experience important scenes.
  • Exclusive Chapters: Events which the characters must experience and can only happen once; these change the nature of the story and cannot be revisited or reversed.
  • Independent Chapters: Not critical to the overall puzzle, but may help.
  • Information: The flow between chapters that lead from one to another.

Like character generation, I think at the time I viewed this (again) as too different to understand. Today, I can see the designer’s intent and zeal to get closer to the grand, sweeping, epic feel of Babylon 5. Unfortunately, even today I don’t often see a similar approach in other games that could use it like Star Wars Saga Edition or even Battlestar Galactica.

The core Game Mechanic is actually very simple. Players compare Attribute+Skill and Specialty+/- Modifiers +/- a Random Modifier against a Task Difficulty set by the GM. To use the examples from the book:

Jessica is attempting to bypass the reactor control circuitry. The bypass isn’t particularly difficult, but Jessica is working by flashlight in zero-G. Dana specifies that Jessica will take the necessary time to make sure the job is done right. Taking all of those factors into consideration, the GM decides that the task is Difficult, which gives it a Difficulty Number of 11. Jessica’s Intelligence is 5; her skill in Engineering: Electrical is 3; and her Specialty in Electrical Applications adds another 2 – all totaling to an Ability of 10. Her GM decides that no additional penalties or bonuses apply. (The Babylon Project, p. 90)

The Random Modifier is created by taking two die (a green positive and red negative) and rolling. Look at the lowest number. That die is now the modifier – positive if the green die and negative if the red. This makes the Random Modified range from +5 to -5.  To continue using the example from the rule book:

Dana rolls the dice. Her Negative Die result is 5, with a Positive Die result of 2. Thus, her Random Modifier is +2. (The Babylon Project, p. 91)

The degree of success or failure is also a consideration. As the example continues:

Jessica’s Ability in her attempt to bypass the reactor control circuitry is 10. Adding the Random Modifier of +2 just rolled by Dana gets a total Result of 12. That’s 1 over the Difficulty of 11 set by the GM – a Marginal Success. The GM tells Dana that Jessica’s bypass has fixed the problem, but that it won’t hold up for long, and not at all if the reactor is run at over half its rated power output. Thus, her success in the task resolution fixes the problem, but the GM interprets its marginal nature as a limitation on engine power and fortitude. (The Babylon Project, p. 91)

Given my close acquaintance with Classic Traveller and the definite lack of a clearly defined task system – much less an emphasis on degrees of success – it is not surprising I didn’t immediately embrace the simple task mechanic in The Babylon Project.

Combat comes in two forms, Close and Ranged, and is played in phases of two-seconds each meaning the player character gets a single action. Players make an attacker roll versus a defender roll. An important combat consideration is aim point; there is a default aim point and if the attacker wants to (or must) aim elsewhere there is a modifier. The degree of success determines how close to the aim point the hit occurs and the level of damage. Combat then moves to Immediate Effects. This table determines if the hit results in immediate death, stun, or impairment. Given the Damage Ratings of the weapons and not-so-great armor this means combat in The Babylon Project is very dangerous! Once combat is over, then Final Effects are dealt with, to include the extent of injuries and wounds. Like all of The Babylon Project, there is a heavy emphasis on the storytelling effect of the injury. Again this is nothing like Classic Traveller yet today I can see the design effect the designer was reaching for – speedy combat using the simple core mechanic with detailed wounds and healing latter. I think the designer achieved what he was trying to do with combat.

The Babylon Project also uses Fortune Points, this games version of Bennies or Plot Points. Each player starts a session with five Fortune Points. Fortune Points can be used to improve a task roll, save  your life in combat, and attempt a task that the player normally could not attempt. This game mechanism is not found in Classic Traveller and a the time I think I saw it as too cinematic or “space opera” for my hard sci-fi taste. Today, I take for granted the use of Plot Points or Bennies or like mechanisms as a useful tool for players to exercise narrative control on the game instead of leaving it in the sole hands of the GM. I have also grown to appreciate the cinematic benefits of Plot Points as I have moved (a bit) away from hard sci-fi rules mechanics.

Courtesy RPG Geek

The last page of The Babylon Project rulebook is a one-page GM Reference Sheet. Literally everything needed to run the game is on this one page. Really…everything! How did they ever expect to sell a GM screen? In fact they did – it was one of the items I also picked up in my bulk buy – and used three panels. The left panel has Attributes and Skills (a useful reminder of the entire list available) as well as Martial Arts Maneuvers (rules added in the Earthforce Sourcebook supplement). The right panel is a Weapons and Armor table – again useful but not absolutely essential. The center panel is a colorful, slightly reformatted version of the original GM Reference Guide.

Courtesy RPG Geek

It would also be negligent of me not to mention that one of the reasons I originally got The Babylon Project was for the space combat system. Introduced in Earthforce Sourcebook, the space combat system was developed by Jon Tuffley and based on his successful Full Thrust miniatures system. This approach to incorporating popular, known, miniatures space combat rules and an RPG was later repeated by the Traveller community with the publication of Power Projection: Fleet.

Rereading The Babylon Project has opened my eyes to just how much of a gem this game really is. Compared to the more recent Mongoose Traveller Universe of Babylon 5, which I reviewed in 2011, the earlier The Babylon Project is more appropriate to the source and setting. Since the 1997 publication of the game, I have also matured as an RPG player and am more comfortable with the narrative/storytelling  and cinematic aspects of the rules. I can now see where The Babylon Project is much like the early Cortex System (Serenity and Battlestar Galactica RPGs) or Savage Worlds – game systems I really love and enjoy playing.  I think I will work on a story arc for The Babylon Project and see what happens….

Wargame Wednesday – Traveller High Guard: Bomb-Pumped Laser Missiles

Courtesy KKaju on Deviant Art

One piece of space combat kit that is referenced in latter Traveller products (like QuikLink Interactive’s Traveller’s Aide #9: Fighting Ships of the Solomani Confederation) is the Bomb-Pumped Laser (BPL) missile. The BPL is a missile that detonates near its target, but uses the resulting nuclear explosion to create laser beams to attack. For a bit of background see Atomic Rocketships.

In the most simple Traveller High Guard terms, a BPL missile will “hit” and “penetrate” as a missile but “damage” as a laser. To more accurately reflect the detonation of the BPL at some distance from the target a few modified rules are in order.

Bomb-Pumped Lasers: Using the Missile Attack Table, BPL missiles must achieve the to hit number (or greater) on two dice. However, to reflect the detonation of the BPL at a distance from the target, the USP of active defenses (Sand or Beam and Repulsors) is reduced by 1 (USP-1) for purposes of determining penetration. There is no passive defense (i.e. Nuclear Dampers) against a BPL. If a hit is achieved that penetrates the active defenses, resolve damage per Lasers using the Surface Explosion Damage Table with DM-2 to reflect the greater laser energy arriving at the target.

For example; a Striker-class Solomani Destroyer (TAS9-pg. 32) attacks an Azhanti High Lighting-class Fleet Intruder (Traveller’s Aide #7 – Fighting Ships of the Imperium – pg. 33) at long range. The Striker uses Battery 2, a USP 5 missile battery to attack and declares the use of BPL. The AHL defends with Battery 1 Beam Laser ( USP 9).

  • To Hit: Checking the Missile Attack Table in High Guard, the base To Hit for USP 5 missile attack is 5. DMs allowed are relative computer size (0), target agility (0), and target size (+2) for a final DM of +2. 2d6 are rolled for a 6, DM+2 for 8 which is a Hit .
  • To Penetrate: Cross-referencing the USP 5 missile with USP 9 Beam gives a To Penetrate of 9, but because the attack uses a BPL the USP of the Beam is reduced to 8 (USP-1) giving a To Penetrate of 8. DMs to penetrate are relative computer size (0). 2d6 are rolled for 9 resulting in penetration of defenses.
  • Damage Determination: Using the Surface Explosion Damage Table, 2d6 are rolled. DMs are armor (+5), weapon inflicting hit less than USP 9 (+6), and BPL (-2) for a final DM of +9. The roll of 2d6 is 6 is modified with the DM+9 for a 15 for a Weapon-1 damage. In this case, firing player reduces the Beam Laser Battery to USP 8.

Why Even Use a BPL? Deriving rules for use of BPLs in High Guard gives rise to the question as to why BPLs are even considered. The advantage of the BPL is in the penetration (weakened active defenses and no passive defenses) and a DM-2 on the Surface Explosion Damage Table. Using a regular nuclear missile, the missile must hit (neutral advantage compared to using BPLs), penetrate active defenses (with defenses at full strength – advantage to defender compared to BPLs) and passive defenses (advantage to defender compared to BPLs). Damage Determination also occurs on both the Surface Explosion Damage Table and the Radiation Damage Table (advantage to attacker if not using BPLs). So lets run through that example again but use a standard nuclear missile….

  • To Hit: Checking the Missile Attack Table in High Guard, the base To Hit for USP 5 missile attack is 5. DMs allowed are relative computer size (0), target agility (0), and target size (+2) for a final DM of +2. 2d6 are rolled for a 6, DM+2 for 8 which is a Hit .
  • To Penetrate Active Defenses: Cross-referencing the USP 5 missile with USP 9 Beam gives a To Penetrate of 9. DMs to penetrate are relative computer size (0). 2d6 are rolled for 9 resulting in penetration of active defenses.
  • To Penetrate Passive Defenses: The AHL has a USP 5 Nuclear Damper. DMs are the same (0). To Penetrate is 11. 2d6 is 8…no penetration. However, for the sake of the example, let’s assume the roll beat the low-probability 11+….
  • Damage Determination: Using the Surface Explosion Damage Table, 2d6 are rolled. DMs are armor (+5), weapon inflicting hit less than USP 9 (+6), and nuclear missile (-6) for a final DM of +5. The roll of 2d6 is 6 is modified with the DM+5 for a result of 11 or Weapon-2. The firing player reduces the Sandcaster battery to USP 8 and the Beam Laser battery to USP 8. A second damage roll is made on the Radiation Damage Table. DMs are armor (+5) and weapon inflicting hit less than USP 9 (+6) for DM+11. The roll of 2d6 is 7 for a final of 18 or Weapon-1. The firing player reduces the Fusion Gun battery to USP 8.

Doctrinally speaking, a nuclear missile is best used against an armored target with no nuclear damper where the DM-6 can be used to offset some (or all) of the armor. This is especially true if the attacking missile USP is less than 9. A BPL is best used against large unarmored or weakly armored, low agility, near or lower computing-power targets that carry nuclear dampers. This is admittedly a very narrow target set and makes the usefulness of BPLs questionable.

RPG Thursday – My Top Seven RPG Internet Meme

James over at Grognardia started it, and I am late to get on the bandwagon.

My top 7 played RPGs in 2012 (and a good marker for the past several years):

1 – Classic Traveller (Admittedly not so much the RPG but the setting. I especially have played the games of Classic Traveller such as Striker, Book 5: High Guard, Adventure 5: Trillion Credit Squadron, Imperium, Fifth Frontier War, and Power Projection: Fleet; as well as using adventures such as Adventure 7: Broadsword as inspiration for Tomorrow’s War.)

2- Mongoose Traveller (including Hammer’s Slammers, Outpost Mars and Orbital)

3 – Battlestar Galactica

4 – Serenity

5 – Prime Directive

6 – Mouse Guard

7 – Others I played around with in 2012 were Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and the new Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner’s Game. Also messed around with Space: 1889 and A Song of Ice and Fire: Game of Thrones Edition.

RPG Thursday: Orbital

Orbital (courtesy Zozer Games)

Orbital is a 223-page PDF written by Paul Elliott and published under the Zozer Games label. Orbital is a Solar System setting for the Mongoose Traveller (MgT) RPG. The setting takes place in 2098 with a Tech Level of mostly Tech Level 9 travel but TL 11 computing and electronics.

Author Paul Elliott lays out the setting by starting with a startling assumption; Osama Bin Laden was killed in the 1998 cruise missile attack in Afghanistan. In his alternate history/alternative future there is no 21st Century War on Terror.

Character creation generally uses the standard rules and careers found in the Traveller Main Book (TMB) with just a few changes. There is one new career introduced in Orbital, that of the Explorer. New skill specialties for Science, Survival, and Trade are here. Mustering Out is also modified. The result if most characters are generated “while still working” vice the usual Traveller mustered out.

Chapter 5 covers space vehicle in Orbital, including Deep Space Vehicles (DSVs). A heavily modified spacecraft design sequence that draws heavily on the TMB and High Guard is presented here. The author chose not to use the rules for Reaction Drives from TMB/High Guard and instead depends on Nuclear Thermal Rockets. This in turn leads to an entirely different Spacecraft Operations section with details on traveling between planets in the Solar System. This also means Space Combat is different, but the author doesn’t go into as much detail here.

Hardware in Orbital focuses on the technology necessary to survive in the Solar System. Vacc Suits get a very detailed treatment and their own design sequence. Planetary vehicles, named Rovers, are detailed too. It is unclear (though assumed) that Rovers were created using the design sequence from The Vehicle Handbook for MgT. Orbital Vehicles – the small craft of the Orbital setting – are detailed and were created using the MgT High Guard and Comstar/Avengers Archaic Smallcraft & Space Stations module.

Chapter 8, Orbital Society, delves more deeply into setting specific details. There are many details here that can serve as adventure seeds. Chapter 9, Working in Space, details the many dangers and threats as well as the Orbital version of Belting (asteroid mining) rules. Chapter 10, Worlds, is the “subsector guide” for the Orbital setting with details of planets and moons and other locales.

Chapter 11, Running Orbital, is the GM guide. Of the four default settings, I find it surprising the author uses Deep Space Haulage as his default campaign premise. To me this is the least inspiring of the premises given; I find Salvage and Rescue or Exploration & Science more inspirational with even Asteroid Mining more appealing. There is also a section on SETI – Intelligent Life. Fortunately  the author avoided his Outpost Mars RPG.net speculation approach and lays out five-plus good pages of adventure seeds.

Chapter 12, Resources, is quite literally the Appendix N of Orbital. A very useful review of movies, books, RPGs, and web resources to help GMs and players get a deeper understanding or inspiration for the Orbital setting.

Should You Get it?

Unlike author Paul Elliott’s earlier Outpost Mars, his Orbital is a near-complete setting. There is more than enough in this book to run a Solar System adventure or campaign. I wish the author had more fully imported his Reputation/secret Agenda/secret Ally mechanic into Orbital from Outpost Mars instead of being wishy-washy and simple changing Social Standing to a nebulous, ill-defined  reputation. Later in the book, under “Running a Campaign” for Running Orbital, he introduces the concept of Status without directly tying it Social Standing. There is also a discussion of Secret Agendas here. This is a missed opportunity to showcase his “gimmick” that could help define Orbital beyond just its low-tech Traveller setting. Instead, the author buries it as a commentary at the end of the Example Mission on page 200:

“Get the idea? No fights, no shots exchanged. No physical conflict, but a definite lack of trust and no-one is quite sure of the others’ motives. The referee can’t ban any physical conflict, but it should be an unwritten rule: the player characters never try to harm one another. Secret agendas are best dealt with using a few hand-written notes, quickly passed, rather than private chats. Any group using this secret agenda mechanic should understand that occasional notes will be passed between the referee and players and that none of the character’s lives are at risk from these notes.”

Orbital is quite obviously an evolved version of the authors previous Outpost Mars, not only in the setting but in the rules. I only wish the Reputation/secret Agenda/secret Ally mechanic had evolved in Orbital too.

Recommendation: BUY

RPG Thursday: Outpost Mars

Courtesy Zozer Games

Outpost Mars (OM) is a short 59-page PDF written by Paul Elliott and published under the Zozer Games label. OM is a Mongoose Traveller (MgT) RPG setting taking place on Mars in the very near future (2040!).

All player characters use a single character creation career called Mars Explorer. There are three mission specialties; Scientific, Technical, or Surface Ops. In a change from the MgT basic setting, each player character also has an Agenda which includes Reputation, a secret Goal, and a secret Ally. Equipment for the setting generally does not exceed Tech Level 8 (close to current Earth).

OM describes the planetology of Mars in great detail; not a bad thing considering the environment is an important part of surviving the setting. There is also an extensive discussion (much of it lifted straight from RPG.net posts) on possible alien life on Mars.

The chapter “Running Mars” describes possible missions with a few examples thrown in. OM is very much a “sandbox” setting – no rigid adventure paths are given! The players are cast in the role of members of small teams. Each member has to advance their reputation while also working to achieve their secret Goal. The secret goals of the player characters will likely be in conflict with each other. As author Paul Elliott states on page 44, “Get the idea? No fights, no shots exchanged. No physical conflict. But a definite lack of trust. No-one is ever quite sure of the others’ motives.”

The question of life on Mars is covered on page 36 where the author discusses archaeological theories. The author also includes five pages of RPG.net discussion of what forum members envisioned alien life on Mars could be like.

There is also an appendix (though not labeled as such) covering the Military on Mars which details both the Marines and US Space Command. What is not covered in the book are vehicles and spacecraft. They are mentioned in places but no details/designs are given. I do like the Movies and Books “Appendix N” at the end of the product.

I find Outpost Mars rushed and seemingly unfinished. The gimmick – here being Reputation and secret Agendas – works fine in the limited setting of Mars. What I dislike most is the speculation on alien life – there is too much speculation. The author would of been better off with his first two pages of comments and dropped the five pages of RPG.net speculation. I would of rather seen at least one example each of a Mars vehicle and spacecraft in those repurposed five pages.

Recommendation: PASS on it.

RPG Thursday – Mason Combatants

High Guard Stats for Battle of Mason. Derived from Traveller’s Aide #7 – Fighting Ships (QLI-RPGRealms, 2003) and Traveller’s Aide #9 – Fighting Ships of the Solomani (QLI-RPGRealms, 2009).

Solomani Rim War, Mason/Diaspora, 86-990.

Imperial Combatants

Effendi CH R 1 4 5 H 3 0 9 6 6 0 8 9 0 S 0 9
TL14 Bats Bear 11 11 11 28
Agl=5 Bats 15 15 16 40
Seydlitz Mo E 3 0 5 G 2 2 0 2 2 0 0 3 0 0 E 0
TL13 Bats Bear 5
Agl=5 Bats 5

Solomani Combatants (Note – The Midway SCF carries 1500 fighters; Texas has 10 fighters)

Zeus SBC S 1 3 5 G 4 2 7 3 3 0 7 9 5 8 P 8
TL13 Bats Bear 26 13 16 16 33 14
Agl=5 Bats 40 20 25 25 50 22
Yamamato SCS P 1 3 5 G 3 3 9 3 3 0 0 9 0 R 0 8
TL13 Bats Bear 8 8 16
Agl=5 Bats 10 10 20
Texas SCL H 1 3 4 4 3 5 4 0 0 0 0 3 0 8 0 2
TL12 Bats Bear 3 3 2 5
Agl=1 Bats 3 3 2 5
Striker SDD 3 2 3 5 6 1 2 4 0 0 0 0 9 0 8 0 5
TL12 Bats Bear 5 1 1 1
Agl=3 Bats 5 1 1 1
Midway SCF S 7 3 2 G 4 0 9 3 3 0 7 9 8 8 0
TL13 Bats Bear 16 33 33 16 33
Agl=2 Bats 25 50 50 25 50
Minsk SCH Q 1 3 5 G 3 3 7 3 3 0 8 9 0 8 F 0
TL13 Bats Bear 15 6 15 15
Agl=5 Bats 20 8 20 20
Madrid SCL K 1 4 4 H 1 4 9 4 6 0 0 7 0 0 5 9
TL14 Bats Bear 3 6 2 2
Agl=4 Bats 3 6 2 2
Tau Ceti SDD C 1 4 4 G 1 3 7 0 0 0 0 6 0 8 0 0
TL13 Bats Bear 3 3
Agl=4 Bats 3 3