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Old 10-28-2016, 11:47 AM   #1
johndallman
 
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Default [Basic] Skill of the week: Shiphandling

GM: "So, driving this 100' tall TL1^ mecha, you want to pick up your galley and move it outside the harbour?"
Player: "It's OK, I have Shiphandling!"

Shiphandling is the IQ/H TL skill of operating a large vessel, primarily by coordinating the actions of the crew. If one person can operate the vessel, you don't need Shiphandling. The boundary between the various skills is explained in more detail here. The skill has prerequisites of Leadership, Navigation for the medium in which the vessel moves, and the Crewman skill for the vessel. Specialisation is required, and the options are (Airship), (Ship), (Spaceship), (Starship) and (Submarine). The defaults depend on the specialisation, but are generally the Crewman skill at -5 or the vehicle-driving skill at -5. The skill appeared in Compendium I for GURPS 3e.

As well as coordinating the crew, the skill covers the duties of a commander, such as making sure the log is kept up, and the crew are being looked after. Somebody who knows Shiphandling needs to be on duty at all times while the vessel is in use, usually called the officer of the watch, or of the deck.

Rolls for Shiphandling are made in combat, or in hazardous situations. In combat, a failure means the ship ended up in the wrong place, which may abort combat actions, expose you to enemy fire, take you out of contact with your fleet, or cost you a chance of prize money. Failing a roll for a hazard will damage the ship in some way, make you late, or similar non-catastrophic problems. Critical failures cause some kind of disaster, such as running aground, a collision that was your fault, losing a vital part of the ship, such as mast, rudder or screws, or the crew giving up listening to you.

In combat, it isn't compulsory for a naval captain to be handing the ship himself. He's responsible for it, but if he needs to coordinate with other forces, handling the ship itself may be delegated to another officer.

Shiphandling shows up on templates for ship's officers, but is otherwise rare. AtE mentions it, for airships as well as surface vessels, and Banestorm has a maelstrom that's a very serious challenge for a captain. Fantasy gives Shiphandling penalties for hurricanes, and LTC2 has equipment that gives bonuses for boarding actions. Power-Ups 3 and 7 have talents and wildcard skills that cover Shiphandling, and Spaceships has lots of tasks for it. Supporting Cast: Age of Sail Pirate Crew has characters who use it, and points out that the vehicle statistic of Handling (Hnd) affects contests of Shiphandling. Thaumatology has Path/Book rituals defaulting to skills (Weatherworking to Shiphandling), Chinese Elemental Powers has an ability that can boost or penalise the skill, and Urban Magics has a spell whose effects are capped by Shiphandling.

A version of the classic apocryphal tale of cascading critical failures of Shiphandling can be found here.

What trouble have you got into, or out of, with this skill?
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Old 10-28-2016, 02:12 PM   #2
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Shiphandling

I quibble a bit about Spaceship vs Starship. In some settings this is a distinction of size, but I can't believe that two spacecraft of the same mass, one of which happens to have a hyperdrive that's not in use full time, are so utterly different in the matter of command procedures - especially since they don't have separate Piloting skills!

I think this skill is rather under-rated in Spaceships: you can use it to motivate a crewman (arguably that should be Leadership), or to let a pilot use his Spacer (or your Shiphandling) in place of his Piloting, and that's it.
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Old 10-29-2016, 12:06 PM   #3
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Shiphandling

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Originally Posted by RogerBW View Post
I quibble a bit about Spaceship vs Starship. In some settings this is a distinction of size, but I can't believe that two spacecraft of the same mass, one of which happens to have a hyperdrive that's not in use full time, are so utterly different in the matter of command procedures - especially since they don't have separate Piloting skills!
I'm with you here and fully intend to have only one spacefaring specialty in the project I'm currently working on.

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Originally Posted by RogerBW View Post
I think this skill is rather under-rated in Spaceships: you can use it to motivate a crewman (arguably that should be Leadership), or to let a pilot use his Spacer (or your Shiphandling) in place of his Piloting, and that's it.
This may be a case of trying to provide a "Captain" skill where a captain should really have a mix of skills. It's basically a combination of Leadership with an optional specialty for large spacecraft and Piloting (Large Spacecraft). I'm not truly certain if there's even a reason to retain the skill, at this point; I haven't fully explored it yet. My gut is kind of thinking this one can go, though. A captain could easily get away with Leadership (Spacecraft Crews), Strategy (Space), and Tactics (Space). You could tack on lower levels of his subordinates' jobs, like Navigation (Space or Hyperspace), Piloting, Electronics Operations (Comms, EW, Security, or Sensors), and so on, but those wouldn't be nearly as important to a captain as Administration, Savoir-Faire, and the like.
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Old 10-29-2016, 03:37 PM   #4
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Shiphandling

For large sailing ships it's clearly a real thing: you have one bloke who considers what needs to be done and then breaks it down into "set sails like this" and "turn rudder like that", and two other blokes (or teams) who do the actual jobs.

It's similar for early powered ships, where you have rudder and engine-room telegraph. And even more so for airships, where you also have climb/dive planes, ballast and gas venting to consider.

Is it necessary now, when you have engine rooms that are basically automated unless something's gone wrong, and remote cameras wherever you want to pay to put them? In terms of manoeuvre, what does the ship's master do that the helmsman doesn't? He'll consider the navigator's plot and tell the helmsman "steer course 300, make 12 knots" (or more likely these days "tell the ship to follow the course on your screen"), but that's not really a skill as such.

The real problem, I think, is the the regularity of the skill tree is broken here: Boating changes to Shiphandling as the vessel gets bigger, but there's no similar change for Piloting. Perhaps this is because in some space settings you have the captain who gives orders to separate individual manoeuvre crew, and in some you don't?

If we're to resurrect Shiphandling as a useful skill, I think it has to go beyond just telling the helmsman what to do: it's the skill you use to turn the result of a Tactics roll into a useful set of orders ("navigator, get us there; pilot, follow that course, rolling 60 degrees to port; starboard gunners hold fire until all guns bear on target Bravo"). How this feeds into Spaceships I haven't yet considered, but I think it may be a new Command task, or something that modifies how the Space Tactics task works.

It's possibly worth putting in a plug for my current space-naval GURPS game, Wives and Sweethearts - among other things you'll find there lists of skills required for naval officers in general, and for specific positions.
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Old 10-29-2016, 05:46 PM   #5
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Shiphandling

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Originally Posted by RogerBW View Post
For large sailing ships it's clearly a real thing: you have one bloke who considers what needs to be done and then breaks it down into "set sails like this" and "turn rudder like that", and two other blokes (or teams) who do the actual jobs.

It's similar for early powered ships, where you have rudder and engine-room telegraph. And even more so for airships, where you also have climb/dive planes, ballast and gas venting to consider.
This I get, and I think it's a reasonable skill in this context because it represents a body of knowledge about what everyone needs to do in the moment to for a ship to do what you want it to.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RogerBW View Post
Is it necessary now, when you have engine rooms that are basically automated unless something's gone wrong, and remote cameras wherever you want to pay to put them? In terms of manoeuvre, what does the ship's master do that the helmsman doesn't? He'll consider the navigator's plot and tell the helmsman "steer course 300, make 12 knots" (or more likely these days "tell the ship to follow the course on your screen"), but that's not really a skill as such.

The real problem, I think, is the the regularity of the skill tree is broken here: Boating changes to Shiphandling as the vessel gets bigger, but there's no similar change for Piloting. Perhaps this is because in some space settings you have the captain who gives orders to separate individual manoeuvre crew, and in some you don't?
Even here, I question if that's really a skill beyond Leadership, if it's even that. Tactics tells you what you need to do, Leadership gets your crew to do it well. Jamming another skill in there that doesn't represent something significant feels bloated. At least with sailing ships, there is a body of knowledge of how to translate what you want done into doing something (beyond saying, "Z-minus 0.5 mps, X-minus 0.2 mps, gunners fire on my mark", all of which is handled by the Tactics roll that says, "go here, do this, and you should have an advantage"). My awkwardly written point is that unless you are giving extremely specific instructions for the fundamental operation of the vessel - "trim this line, tighten that line", etc. - it's not really a skill so much as voicing the outcome you want to happen - "turn north 10 degrees". As soon as you start leaving the technical aspect in to the crew's hands - "I need more power!" as opposed to "Decrease rod depth 0.5%!" or even "Increase core temperature 10%!", you're not really using a skill anymore.

All of that said, I do see where in some genres, it may be totally reasonable for a captain to go into that much depth, but I also think most spaceship captains in fiction don't. And that's where the issue arises: people's expectations of who things will work nullifies the need for a Shiphandling (Spaceships) skill.
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Old 10-30-2016, 05:47 AM   #6
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Shiphandling

Quote:
Originally Posted by RogerBW View Post
I quibble a bit about Spaceship vs Starship. In some settings this is a distinction of size, but I can't believe that two spacecraft of the same mass, one of which happens to have a hyperdrive that's not in use full time, are so utterly different in the matter of command procedures - especially since they don't have separate Piloting skills!
I can see why the option is in the rules, but by and large I tend to agree with you unless starships operate in a radically different fashion to in system craft starship specialisation is redundant.

Off hand I can't actually think of a setting or situation where there is a meaningful enough distinction where PC's are likely to be opperating a starship. I suspect that in order to be meaningful you are looking at Dune highliners as your model I.e starships that are effectively orbital platforms with an FTL drive.
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Old 10-30-2016, 06:05 AM   #7
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Shiphandling

I tend to think a lot of the distinction is just *time*. For a ship or airship, you can separate the decision making from the actual control, because a couple seconds to pass orders doesn't matter very much. For a big ship you need to have planned everything out a while ago - if you are going to hit something in the next few seconds your response time doesn't matter, because even if it is zero, the ship won't turn fast enough to miss.

For an aircraft or ground car, and fictional spacecraft where the piloting is exciting enough to put onscreen much, that's not true, so the person doing the steering needs to be deciding where to steer at least some of the time. Note that it's only partly true for heavy aircraft, or real world spacecraft, and some of them do separate the captain from the pilot, though much of that may be captured by a navigation rather than a shiphandling skill.
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Old 10-30-2016, 06:36 AM   #8
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Shiphandling

Some historical variations I've picked up:

In large military aircraft, such as modern AWACS, the mission commander can be a different person from the pilot. He gives orders to the pilot about what to go and what the aircraft should do, then spends his time coordinating with other units. He's like a higher commander who happens to be on board, so the pilot presumably remains responsible for the aircraft.

Separately from that, there have been militaries where the navigator (or "observer") of an aircraft with more than one crewman was meant to be in command. This was common early in WWI, and survived into WWII in the Luftwaffe, but now seems to have died out. The reasoning seems to have been that piloting was a manual skill, while you had to have brains to be a navigator, therefore pilots could be enlisted, and you could economise on trained officers. This did not survive.

Steering a large surface vessel that's moving in formation is surprisingly hard if the sea is at all rough; it's necessary to adjust the wheel constantly to maintain the course and formation. Normally, this is left to the steersman. The Royal Navy, before WWI, changed that, so that the steersman wasn't supposed to move the wheel without orders, and the junior officer of the watch was constantly giving those orders. This was not a success, and they reverted to the conventional method.
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Old 11-02-2016, 01:12 AM   #9
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Shiphandling

Quote:
Originally Posted by RogerBW View Post
The real problem, I think, is the the regularity of the skill tree is broken here: Boating changes to Shiphandling as the vessel gets bigger, but there's no similar change for Piloting. Perhaps this is because in some space settings you have the captain who gives orders to separate individual manoeuvre crew, and in some you don't?
I find myself asking if SM could be added as an equivalent to the TL skill modifier; so an Age of Sail Shiphandling could be TL4/SM+6, with a penalty for larger/smaller vessels (-1 per +/- 2 SM, perhaps). Boating would be the same skill, but TL4/SM+3 And this might work as a guideline for all vehicle skills; Piloting/Driving/Crewman, etc...

Different command techs could reduce or increase the modifier, but at least there's a base assumption.
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Old 11-02-2016, 02:43 AM   #10
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Shiphandling

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Originally Posted by kabson View Post
I find myself asking if SM could be added as an equivalent to the TL skill modifier; so an Age of Sail Shiphandling could be TL4/SM+6, with a penalty for larger/smaller vessels (-1 per +/- 2 SM, perhaps). Boating would be the same skill, but TL4/SM+3 And this might work as a guideline for all vehicle skills; Piloting/Driving/Crewman, etc...

Different command techs could reduce or increase the modifier, but at least there's a base assumption.
I think that opens some big cans of worms. A different vessel is definitely a different familiarity for both Boating and Shiphandling. But TL8 Shiphandling can be used for vessels from about SM+4 to SM+14 for the largest oil tankers.
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