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Old 01-05-2022, 03:35 PM   #1
Michael Thayne
 
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Default What RPG has the best spaceship design system?

I've looked at a lot of RPG spaceship design systems, and have never been quite satisfied with any of them—particularly when it comes to the handling of space combat. I'm coming at this from a position of not minding complexity much, but being deeply annoyed by things that make no in-universe sense. Here are the systems I'm familiar with:
  • GURPS Vehicles 3rd edition. Like I said, I don't mind the complexity, but in spite of all the attention to realism, there are some definite wonk elements, like the laser rules.
  • GURPS Spaceships 4th edition: has a lot going for it, but the lack of support for custom missiles/drones less than 10 tons (and the fact this decision wasn't wholly arbitary—which becomes apparent when you try to home-brew a fix) is a real problem. The limited choice of hulltonnages also isn't ideal, though IMHO not as bad as the hard lower limit.
  • GURPS Transhuman Space Classic: being specific to one setting has major benefits to the point that I struggle to point to any really fatal flaws, but it is very setting-specific and the range of what you can do is limited in some ways.
  • Classic Traveller: a major influence on probably every subsequent sci-fi RPG, but it's hard to get something right when you are the first person doing it ever, and it shows. Numerous tables that almost follow a pattern but don't, and IIRC other wonkiness.
  • Alternity: For those who don't know, Alternity was a short-lived RPG by TSR whose setting got recycled as d20 Future. Actually my first sci-fi RPG ever, and the source of my handle on these forums (my real name isn't Michael!) I don't actually remember much about the spaceship design system, except that in retrospect the Traveller influence is obvious, and unfortunately the core mechanic (for the entire game, not just space combat!) is pretty wonky.
  • Squadron Strike: technically a tabletop wargame, I mention it here because I really respect the author, Ken Burnside. Unfortunately, IIUC the ship design rules are so complicated they exist only in spreadsheet form, and I'm not sure the ship point costs are meant to be economically meaningful rather than a game balance mechanism.
I suspect the thing I want is a more recent edition of Traveller, or maybe 2300 AD, but I don't want to plunk down $50+ on anything before soliciting some opinions. Note that I already understand Traveller 5 is quite complex, and while that isn't necessarily a deal-breaker for me I know it can be hard to make every part of a really complicated game work together with every other part in the intended manner, which is probably the biggest reason I haven't bought it yet.
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Old 01-05-2022, 03:38 PM   #2
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Default Re: What RPG has the best spaceship design system?

Oh god I meant to post this in "Roleplaying in General" can a mod please move it rather than just deleting it?
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Old 01-05-2022, 05:27 PM   #3
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Default Re: What RPG has the best spaceship design system?

I quite like Spacemaster Privateers but the book is full of errors and stuff. Still it's a decent variation on build a box and put stuff in it. It's one of those, not quite as complex and detailed can be a good thing situations.

Traveller the New Era's Fire Fusion and Steel is really good.

BRTC's Vehicles is excellent, of course.

I've designed a couple systems of my own but I'm not here to spam the board.
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Old 01-05-2022, 06:03 PM   #4
Michael Thayne
 
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Default Re: What RPG has the best spaceship design system?

Reading reviews of Fire, Fusion, & Steel, I'm reminded of another reason I'm dissatisfied with Traveller—assumptions about computers that are stuck in the 1980s. But BTRC's books (I assume BRTC is a typo) look interesting, would you recommend starting with CORPS VDS or EABA Stuff!?
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Old 01-05-2022, 08:36 PM   #5
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Default Re: What RPG has the best spaceship design system?

It was a board game but I quite liked Starfire.
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Old 01-05-2022, 09:01 PM   #6
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Default Re: What RPG has the best spaceship design system?

Jovian Chronicles has a nice inversion of the "put stuff in a box" model. You choose the capabilities first, then calculate the size of the box it takes to fit it all. There's no explicit power budget, for example, because "competent engineers would make sure the power is sufficient." Their delta-V calculations look odd, but are actually realistic.

There's also something to be said for the simplicity of Warp War, if the tech assumptions match your setting. I've often thought there's a great game to be had by combining Warp War ships, shipbuilding, and combat with the setting and map from The Company War, which models CJ Cherryh's Alliance/Union universe.

I cribbed a lot of the boats in the Serenity roleplaying game from real-world aircraft, suitably jazzed up for the setting. The rules were sort of empirically derived from those benchmarks.
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Old 01-07-2022, 03:18 AM   #7
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Default Re: What RPG has the best spaceship design system?

Quote:
Originally Posted by thrash View Post

There's also something to be said for the simplicity of Warp War, if the tech assumptions match your setting. I've often thought there's a great game to be had by combining Warp War ships, shipbuilding, and combat with the setting and map from The Company War, which models CJ Cherryh's Alliance/Union universe.
WarpWar was a cool little game. There really should have been a sequel or at least a spiritual successor. The combat system was unique and a lot of fun.
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Old 01-07-2022, 10:37 AM   #8
Michael Thayne
 
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Default Re: What RPG has the best spaceship design system?

Grabbed CORPS VDS and the first thought is "ooph, this is dated"—to the point of having the year 2000 as the dawn of the fusion era. Though the copyright page claims it's from the late 90s. Also, apparently rules for weapon design are sold separately, which is disappointing for my purposes. Also also, while it has some nice quick & dirty rules for AI, they don't mean anything without the main CORPS book.

I think I might pick up EABA Stuff! next rather than plunk down $20 or more on old CORPS books—EABA Stuff! apparently has a GURPS conversion.
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Old 01-07-2022, 11:15 AM   #9
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Default Re: What RPG has the best spaceship design system?

Is there some reason you're focused on RPG spaceship design systems? Unless you're using the system intended to work with whatever RPG you're using, a non-RPG designer will be just as usable with your game as an RPG designer.

Also, what is it you want out of a design system?
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Old 01-07-2022, 11:41 AM   #10
Michael Thayne
 
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Default Re: What RPG has the best spaceship design system?

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Originally Posted by Anthony View Post
Is there some reason you're focused on RPG spaceship design systems? Unless you're using the system intended to work with whatever RPG you're using, a non-RPG designer will be just as usable with your game as an RPG designer.
Lately, I've been running fantasy games, not sci-fi ones, and weakness in a lot of games' rules for spaceships is a major reason why. So I could be convinced to try running a sci-fi game I've never run before if it has a good spaceship design system. Also, while I am not 100% opposed to using war-game spacehip rules in an RPG, war-games and RPGs are designed to do different things, so many war-games make poor RPG supplements. I recognize there are exceptions.

Quote:
Also, what is it you want out of a design system?
I think the thing I really want is a system that leads to nice in-universe explanations for why ships are built the way they're built. Transhuman Space actually does this pretty well in some (but not all) respects. For example, the long skinny Space Dominance Vehicles with thick armor caps on one end are the kind of thing a munchkin would build, but they make total sense in-universe. OTOH the fact that in the core THS book, at least, coilguns come in one size and lasers come in two sizes is not great. That results in ship designs where the answer to "why is it like that" is "this is the only weapon size the game supports". So I maybe should have said up front that a weapon design system would be ideal—and if not that, I think I really want weapons tables that follow clear patterns which are able to be extrapolated.
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