Fire as She Bears: Design Challenges #1

Hey all!

This is just a little noodle on some of the design challenges in finishing up Fire as She Bears. As some of you may know, FaSB is an in-the-works extension of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game rules aimed at bringing the thrill of Age of Sail ship-to-ship combat to the gaming table -- without anyone ever winding up bored.

The worst things about ship combat (airship, sailing ship, what have you) in TRPGs crawl up from under the table, mid play, and punch players in the boredom sacks. Who wants to sit around watching one player at the table captain a ship, round after round, inching it toward an opponent across the battle mat? BORING.

Good ship-to-ship rules need to empower every player to make important, encounter affecting decisions every round. Good rules need to offer options and choices, not leave some players twiddling their thumbs while others engage in a tactical board game. The same thing seems to plague sci/fi settings and hacker rules -- but that's another discussion.

To beat this problem, one of FaSB's tools is an abstraction for ship movement and ship related actions, blended with initiatives in standard Pathfinder combat rounds. The ship is moving, crew are active, cannons fire, sails burn, grapeshot takes off legs -- all at the very same time the PCs carry out initiative order combat.

Here's the design challenge that's been bugging me: develop an easy to use, swift to apply heuristic for GMs to leaven ship movement and shipped based responses (PC decides to help put out sail fires, PC decides to man cannon to the improvement of accuracy and rate of fire, PC decides to lose legs to grapeshot while exhorting crew to prepare to repel boarders) into the initiative round.

The core of the solution I'm currently noodling starts by assigning an moment of ship movement to every initiative in the initiative order, up to the limit of ship movement. If the ship has a movement of 6 (different scale for ships, as you can imagine) and there are 6 combatants in an initiative order, then ship moves 6 times.  That just leaves developing a simple procedure for a GM to follow when there are more or less instances of ship movement than initiative order combatants.

The trick is to neither overly-complicate nor overly slow setting up an encounter, placing initiative markers, etc.

I think I've got it figured, but I'd love to hear other peoples noodles.


misterjeff said...

I reckon if you couple that with a one minute round you'd be set. Nice idea, Lou.


Endzeitgeist said...

Hmm, interesting solution. Something to chew on, though: What about huge slow, but deadly dreadnoughts? You know, with hundreds, perhaps thousands of people and a VERY slow movement rate but a lot of destructive potential? How would that work with these rules?

(And, in case my players read this...I totally would never have a huge dreadnought attack you.)

Lou said...

@misterjeff - funny you should say that. The original material (I'm developing) envisioned a ship turn of about 10 minutes. 10 combat rounds. I'm using an abstraction to shrink the movement into the one combat round, assuming that the ship continues to move within our shared imaginations for 'longer' than the actual combat. Letting each round of combat stand in for 10 minutes of 'real' time because it makes for faster (more fun) gameplay.

@Endzeitgeist - it's a good question, although no one would _ever_ inflict such a thing on poor, hapless players. Nope. Not ever. No way. :)

That said I intend this time shrinking abstraction to address two things: that different ships have different speeds and maneuverability (ities?) and that in a 'real' age of sail combat, characters have time for both Pathfinder style combat and ship activities (order or leading crew to repel boarders, man pumps, trim sails, etc.). It does so at the cost of matching more 'realistic' paces of activity aboard competing sailing vessels.

So it'd work like this: Let's say your super-dreadnought moves at 2 and your frigate moves at 8 and there are a total of 6 characters in the initiative order (PCs, NPCs and foes).

The frigate will have a ship move (ship moves a hex, ship turns, PCs can take ship actions, etc) on all 6 initiative orders, plus one before initiative and one after. The 8 ship moves have been evenly distributed throughout the initiative order.

The dreadnought will have only 2 ship moves, also equally spaced throughout the initiative order.

Keeping in mind that a course change of a certain significance "eats up" one of a ships movements, the frigate will literally sail farther (more hexes), more nimbly (more opportunity to change course), and 'act' (trim sails, man pumps, sever legs in the surgery, send marines to the mizzen, prepare for boarding) more frequently then the dreadnought.

The two problems I'm wrestling with right now are (1) a heuristic for the initiative order and (2) how complex to get about rates of fire (ROF).

(1) So 6 initiative actors and 8 movement was easy to spread evenly through the initiative order. What do I tell folks if its a 7 speed and there are three initiative actors? For that matter, how do I boil this down to a simple so follow procedure that works with any amount of movement and any number of folks in the initiative order? I don't want to make setting up initiative complex and time-consuming! I think the fact that I can guarantee that ship speeds can always be even or always be odd should help. I think I've got it but I'm finding writing simple, clear instructions telling the GM what steps to follow on this a little challenging. I'll get it, but I'm definitely open to others thoughts.

2) ROF. What if Endzeitgeist's super-dreadnought only moves twice but has a super crack crew and tons of guns along its mile-long length? What if they fire 3 times a minute but the frigate only gets its cannon reloaded 1 per minute? If we choose to accommodate this difference in the rules (and my gut says we should, that its a cool trade off to sacrifice speed for a higher rate of fire), then rate of fire happens independent of initiative order. Does that mean I need another column for firing in the initiative setup? Should there be a "Ship X Fires" counter in the initiative order and if so, where to place it? Isn't this starting to make initiative complicated again, when the purpose of equating ship movement to initiative rounds was to keep everything handled by one tool (the initiative abstraction) in a clear, simple to setup and use way?

I think I know how to solve this, but would love to hear any thoughts from the gang out there.

Lou said...

oops - I meant to say the to misterjeff (without the quotes or elipses:

"the original material did indeed envision a ship turn of 1 minute (10 combat rounds)..."

David Posener said...

OK, here’s my take on it.

Ship Movement Timing: Divide the initiative roll result (1d20+modifiers) for the captain (or helmsman) by the ship’s moves to determine the sequencing of movement. For example, if the initiative result is 15 and the ship has movement of 5, the ship moves on initiative counts 15, 12, 9, 6 and 3. Add any remainder to all results so an initiative result of 16 and movement of 5 give movement on 16, 13, 10, 7 and 4.

PCs and NPCs roll their own initiative, but automatically delay until the next movement of their ship, so if you have 4 PCs as an example with initiative rolls of: PC1 (captain/helmsman) 13, PC2 16, PC3 9, PC4 8; Ship Speed 4. The ship moves on 13, 9, 5, 1; PC1 and PC2 act on 13 (PC2 before PC 1 – original scores determine order), PC3 acts on 9 and PC4 acts on 5. Any of them can choose to delay to act on the next ship’s movement initiative.

Rate of Fire: I don’t think the rate of fire will come up as an issue (making multiple shots per turn), unless you’ve significantly changed the reload times from the original draft, as I think the minimum reload time was at least one turn, for even the smallest cannon and the best crew. Even so, if you are making two shots per turn, I don’t think the abstraction of those two shots happening on the one initiative count would be too onerous. Alternatively the first shot occurs on the Mate’s initiative score, and the second and subsequent attacks occur on each of the next ship’s movement initiative.

Lou said...

That, Mr. Posener, is an excellent and elegant solution. I'd expect no less from one of the key contributors to the core subsystem.

One thing I don't understand, how did you handle the 16 init and 5 move differently? You wrote that one should add the remainder, but it looks in the example like you just dropped the remainder.

I'll double check the ROF. If it's a non-issue, totally awesome. I was just thinking ahead.

David Posener said...

Yep, the 2nd example should be 16, 12, 8, 4, 0.