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Old 01-18-2018, 12:46 AM   #1
David L Pulver
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Default pirate ship crew vs. pirate ship crew with PCs

For a historical (or fantasy) pirate game where the PCs the leading crew of a pirate ship with 50-100 pirates aboard vs. a similar sized enemy ship crew, is there any RPG that does a good job of handling the resulting close gunfire and melee action in a way that allows the PCs, as commanders and leading heroes, to all participate in melee in a way that lets every player stay involved and still hack and slash away without undue abstraction, and also preserves distinctions of equipment and quality, etc. for the crew, so that the PCs have trained and equipped their henchmen? And without having to generate a full miniatures war game battle on the tabletop...

I thought of Savage Worlds which has decent systems for mid-sized PCs and allies melees, but 100+ engaged seems a bit much for it; presumably one would want to have a brute squad-time mechanic as well. Any other games that do this well?

I think FATE has one, but do other games? I also thought having each PC pirate have their own follower squad that is treated semi-abstractly (kind of a single character) which might work - I remember a mechanic of this sort in Robin Law's Hero Wars (?)
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Old 01-18-2018, 03:05 AM   #2
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Default Re: pirate ship crew vs. pirate ship crew with PCs

It's semi-practical to do this level of combat with d20-based systems, since you can just batch roll d20s and pick out the hits, but it will still be pretty slow. What qualifies as 'undue abstraction', though?
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Old 01-18-2018, 06:56 AM   #3
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Default Re: pirate ship crew vs. pirate ship crew with PCs

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Originally Posted by David L Pulver View Post
I also thought of having each PC pirate have their own follower squad that is treated semi-abstractly (kind of a single character) which might work - I remember a mechanic of this sort in Robin Law's Hero Wars (?)
The Planet Mercenary RPG has this, although I haven't actually played the game, and don't know how well it works. The game's setting is ultra-tech, but the game is simple enough that using it with TL4 sailing ships and black powder should work OK.
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Old 01-18-2018, 07:01 AM   #4
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Default Re: pirate ship crew vs. pirate ship crew with PCs

The Fate Core mechanic for "mobs" treats some number of identical NPCs as a single entity for rolling. They have all their hit points ("stress boxes") which can overflow from one mook to the next, so you can theoretically take them all out with one hit.

Naturally, you might well want to narrate the defeat of four or six mooks with different details for each. They're not really all moving identically and falling down in sync, each run through the heart simultaneously.

Fate also suggests an even simpler mechanic, which is treating a mob as an "obstacle" -- that is, pretty much a single die roll to overcome against a passive difficulty rating. This might be used for the mookiest of mooks that aren't even worth a fight scene to defeat. ("You don't need to see their identification" to clear a squad of stormtroopers from your path, perhaps.)

FFG's system (Genesys, in its new generic spin, or several Star Wars flavors as it's best known) also has a group rule -- "minions", in their jargon. It's pretty similar to Fate and Savage Worlds in that a group of minions fights as a single unit, with a single hit point pool and one attack roll. Minions also have simplified character "sheets" - no detailed skill list, but perhaps a single number for the whole group, nor do they take "strain" damage, instead converting all results to "wounds" (the lethal kind), and they die easier (exceed their wounds total and they're dead, which isn't the case for PCs).

It'd be easy enough to adapt this style of design to GURPS. Just group your crewmembers into squads, and treat them as a single unit. You might add up their HTs, just use one HT score (if a single PC is supposed to wipe them all out), or give them a bonus, like HT +1 or +2 per extra pirate in the squad. They're all skill-12 and Active Defense 10 (or however tough you want to make them).

The better crew for the PC ship has their training and better equipment reflected in better squad stats. Maybe those squads fight with skill-14 and PD 2.

The other mechanic I've seen a lot is just to narrate the battle between mooks based on the success of the PCs in their individual fights. It's only the PCs that are making a roll, and their outcome is the outcome of the fight. (There's no way for this design to simulate an outcome where the PCs beat the chief bad guys, yet their mooks lose to the other mooks, leaving the PCs to clean up the bad mooks before lamenting the loss of their own.) The mooks are really just set dressing here, described, but not taking part mechanically.

You can blend this style with the previous one in a manner similar to GURPS Mass Combat. Mook squads fight it out with their unit stats (Mass Combat has its own system), but PCs can take a bonus or penalty for risk in their personal fight, which translates into a similar bonus for their own side. PCs get to make a Heroism roll, modified by their risk bonus; success brings a bonus to other rolls in the system that reflect their significant action having affected the victory. (Details would be mostly narrative, as "you heroically give the commander a +1 to his Strategy roll" isn't very dramatic.) If they want to hang back and hope their troops win, they can be cowardly; if they want to be big damn heroes and lead the mooks to victory, they can earn a bonus for the extra risk. Mass Combat does the whole battle in a couple of rounds, with a "Misfortunes of War" result roll to find out what happens to the PCs. You could do that, or keep using the regular GURPS combat rules for more detailed and suspenseful resolution with some intermediate ebb and flow, perhaps just applying the PC's chosen risk bonus/malus to all the mooks on their side. (Either add up all the PC choices, so a hero and a coward cancel out, or make the party agree on their overall risk bonus.)

(Yes, it is kind of silly to summarize Mass Combat in a David Pulver thread. I'll take refuge behind the fact that forum posts are really talking to a lot of people at once, not always just the immediately preceding post or the one replied to. David certainly doesn't need me to tell him how Mass Combat works. But as long as I'm running down the stuff I've heard of for, uh, mass combat in RPGs, it certainly deserves a mention.)

Last edited by Anaraxes; 01-18-2018 at 07:06 AM.
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Old 01-18-2018, 09:00 AM   #5
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Default Re: pirate ship crew vs. pirate ship crew with PCs

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Originally Posted by Anthony View Post
It's semi-practical to do this level of combat with d20-based systems, since you can just batch roll d20s and pick out the hits, but it will still be pretty slow. What qualifies as 'undue abstraction', though?
My personal experience with pirate ship battles and D20 is that the ordinary seamen only matter (regardless of their numbers) if the PCs are relatively close in power to them.

However, even when the PC core of The Lady Of The Stars pirate crew was only 7th level the 1st or 0th level crewmen could simply be ignored. Whatever they or their enemies might be able to accomplish given enough time would simply be pre-empted by the actions of the PCs or their level boss opponents who would decide matters first.

Pathfinder does have a fleet level battles system but it's based around squadrons of ships and is heavily dependent on checks for Profession(Sailor). Which is why my character put his 11th level FEAT in Skill Focus for that Skill and is going to do horrible horrible things to the bad guys when the fleet battle that's been foreshadowed finally arrives.

I know this hasn't been terribly helpful and I don't know of any system that does what you want but I can say that you need to begin your search with systems that aren't aimed at producing truly powerful PCs compared to average npcs. In fact, since the possibility that the PC's side can be defeated by a roughly similar number of npcs seems to be implied (otherwise, why roll?) you may not be looking for an rpg.
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Old 01-18-2018, 11:58 AM   #6
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Default Re: pirate ship crew vs. pirate ship crew with PCs

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Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
The Planet Mercenary RPG has this, although I haven't actually played the game, and don't know how well it works. The game's setting is ultra-tech, but the game is simple enough that using it with TL4 sailing ships and black powder should work OK.
The fireteam and ablative meat mechanics should be adaptable to any system that has a spendable luck resource equivalent to RiPPs.
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Old 01-18-2018, 12:31 PM   #7
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Default Re: pirate ship crew vs. pirate ship crew with PCs

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Originally Posted by Fred Brackin View Post
My personal experience with pirate ship battles and D20 is that the ordinary seamen only matter (regardless of their numbers) if the PCs are relatively close in power to them.
Exactly what counts as 'relatively close' varies by edition, and it also varies significantly by weapon mix and tactics (100 ranged attackers that maintain good separation can actually chew up a 10th level party pretty badly), but my main point is that you can pick up a handful of d20s and roll them all in a batch, counting successes.
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Old 01-18-2018, 02:13 PM   #8
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Default Re: pirate ship crew vs. pirate ship crew with PCs

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Originally Posted by David L Pulver View Post
I thought of Savage Worlds which has decent systems for mid-sized PCs and allies melees, but 100+ engaged seems a bit much for it; presumably one would want to have a brute squad-time mechanic as well. Any other games that do this well?
I have vague memories of running a Savage Worlds game where the PCs and their post-apocalypse militia allies fought most of a time-traveling Wehrmacht company. It was 4-5 PCs, maybe 20 PCs allies, versus 18-24 half-squads of Nazis and a couple of tanks, I think? Something like that. The PCs' allies were probably organized into squads of 4-9.

Savage Worlds does initiative by playing card, so I think I dealt each platoon a separate card, Then each platoon was 6 half-squads of 6-7 soldiers each, represented on the table by an index card. On each platoon's turn, I'd maneuver their cards and roll a handful of dice for each half squad's attacks. When they were attacked, I'd just note any casualties on the index card until the half-squad was destroyed.

I remember it being a little chaotic and hectic, but Savage Worlds is often chaotic and hectic.

If I was going to run a pirate boarding combat in Savage Worlds, I'd do something similar: organize each side into a manageable number of squads, and then toss dice as needed. Savage Worlds is good for this, because mooks only ever roll one die and there are relatively few opposed rolls. Simplifying the initiative (dealing out and collecting the cards always took too much time) would make it even faster.
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Old 01-19-2018, 02:46 PM   #9
David L Pulver
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Default Re: pirate ship crew vs. pirate ship crew with PCs

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Originally Posted by Fred Brackin View Post
In fact, since the possibility that the PC's side can be defeated by a roughly similar number of npcs seems to be implied (otherwise, why roll?) you may not be looking for an rpg.
No, I am looking for an RPG. The idea of using d20 is not bad, but even with rolling multiple dice, or even with simple versions like AD&D 1st edition, I find it gets awkward when more than 30 combatants are involved.

Ideally the PCs should win most fights and be able to show off by hacking through foes, but their crew should also be useful (if not, why have a crew?).

Moreover, their own NPC pirate crew should be a resource that can be depleted, or something that can be equipped and built up.

If the party is five PCs and 60 pirates and they engage an enemy ship with 70 men at arms (and 30 seamen) then winning the fight with PCs having taken some minor injuries while losing 10 or so their pirates is fine as a reasonable "average" outcome. They've paid something of a price - ten of their crew dead, a few wounds - but they've captured the Spanish galleon or whatever.

In this game, I'd like the pirate boarding actions not to be some "quick contest of tactics" and number crunching exercise but to play out as close to regular combat as possible, allowning PCs to use their abilities. Doesn't have to be on a mapboard.
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Old 01-19-2018, 02:47 PM   #10
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Default Re: pirate ship crew vs. pirate ship crew with PCs

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The Planet Mercenary RPG has this, although I haven't actually played the game, and don't know how well it works. The game's setting is ultra-tech, but the game is simple enough that using it with TL4 sailing ships and black powder should work OK.
I haven't heard of planet mercenary, but it sounds interesting.

Thanks - I'll look into it.
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