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Old 07-09-2019, 01:15 AM   #1
Almenac
 
Join Date: Dec 2018
Default How to make space combat more survivable?

I've read through Spaceships 1 and 4 and lots of forum threads, both old and new. All of them point to the same direction: GURPS spaceship combat is really deadly. A phrase I've seen more than once is "Eggshells armed with hammers", mostly when talking about missiles. Apparently a single fighter craft can take out a capital ship without some crazy lucky shot just because how the damage and armor math works.

Real space combat would be quite deadly, I get it. In fact, realistic space combat would probably be even deadlier with heat accounting and using more realistic ranges.

Problem is that this translates poorly to a space faring campaign that would involve at least some space combat. Basically when you're at the receiving end of a missile, your whole crew is dead.

GURPS is a deadly system, but these situations don't come up so often in another genres. If your horse is shot under you, you might die falling down, but not necessarily. If your getaway car gets riddled with bullets, it might go badly, but there are states between fine and fireball.

I'm not the first one to have a problem with this. So my question is, what are the community best practices to mitigate this issue? How can I run a campaign where characters can be part of space battles where capital ships exchange broadsides, ships take hits and get damaged, but blow up only when they're really damaged. I'm looking for a system where you can shoot up a ship so badly they can't escape and then board them.

Thanks in advance!

(BTW, I'll also post this on Reddit's GURPS subforum).
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Old 07-09-2019, 01:43 AM   #2
Rupert
 
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Default Re: How to make space combat more survivable?

Firstly, there are optional rules to get round this, though they're somewhat handwavey ('assume point-defence beats missiles, so nobody uses standard missiles', for example). Secondly, missiles (and beam weapons, for that matter) are a lot less deadly at TL11 with Force Screens unless you also go with Super Missiles.

Essentially there's a fair bit of room for customising lethality by tinkering with tech level and tech assumptions. That said, the default is very deadly, especially pre-TL11.
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Old 07-09-2019, 09:20 AM   #3
Varyon
 
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Default Re: How to make space combat more survivable?

When reality doesn't cooperate, often the best solution is to change reality. Specifically, magic/superscience. In my (work-in-hiatus) Harpyias setting, the boost drives (drives that instantly accelerate to whatever velocity you want, within the maximum) used for travel produce pseudovelocity (no kinetic energy) unless within a certain range of another (hostile) drive or a planet, at which point they switch to producing real velocity, but are reduced to roughly WWII fighter plane performance (including functioning as though they are in an atmosphere). They have force fields that make it impossible for unguided or AI-guided missiles to get through, but if the missile has a human dedicated to guiding it, it's sometimes possible to slip through (and pilots/gunners can train to split their attention well enough to be able to both fly and guide one or two missiles). The energy weapons in use have better performance against the shields, but you typically need a precisely-aimed shot - and a lot of luck - to slip past the shield and one-shot an enemy craft, and even then that's really only going to work on a smaller ship. The shield technology also passively strengthens the ships so that even from within, you'd need a lot of firepower to take down a capital ship. The whole paradigm is meant to allow for close-range dogfights, boarding action of capital ships, etc.
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Old 07-09-2019, 09:54 AM   #4
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Default Re: How to make space combat more survivable?

I don't remember where this was written, but I remember reading somewhere that a good way of making combat less lethal was to decrease damage but increase armor divisor, e.g., if an attack does 3dx10, make it deal 3dx5(2) instead.
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Old 07-09-2019, 10:07 AM   #5
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Default Re: How to make space combat more survivable?

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Originally Posted by VIVIT View Post
I don't remember where this was written, but I remember reading somewhere that a good way of making combat less lethal was to decrease damage but increase armor divisor, e.g., if an attack does 3dx10, make it deal 3dx5(2) instead.
Don't know if it was ever a thing in Spaceships, but I know that's what "Survivable Guns" (Pyramid #3/44) does for small arms. Doesn't make as much sense for Spaceships, due to the extreme velocities involved (a solid projectile is likely to explode rather than punch a neat hole through the hull), at least when dealing with projectiles (could work for lasers and the like).
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Old 07-09-2019, 10:34 AM   #6
Balor Patch
 
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Default Re: How to make space combat more survivable?

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Originally Posted by Almenac View Post
How can I run a campaign where characters can be part of space battles where capital ships exchange broadsides, ships take hits and get damaged, but blow up only when they're really damaged.
One thing is don't have ships blow up. Recognize that lasers and extreme velocity rounds dump their energy at the surface of the target so sensors and weapons (and e.g. warp drive vanes) on the surface should get chewed up first, so most kills would start as mission kills. Then add a cultural value against machine gunning survivors.
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Old 07-09-2019, 11:15 AM   #7
Mysterious Dark Lord v3.2
 
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Default Re: How to make space combat more survivable?

Using deadly force in the most hazardous environment imaginable? Of course it's not survivable! You fight in space, you die. That's natural. Any damage to the delicate environment needed to keep humans alive means dead humans.

How to avoid dead humans?

1) Drone Combat. Have all violence take place between drones. As the drones are heavily armed, it's understood that if one side's drones are disabled, then the winner can kill the loser at will. So the loser can either surrender or retreat.

2) Ritualized Combat. By custom and treaty, combatants deliberately use low-powered weapons with abstract victory conditions. Failing to abide by the Rules of War means a real war begins.

3) Outlaw Space Combat. Also known as "The BattleTech Solution", no one has usable space warships, so all battles take place on planets.

All these solutions involve all participants agreeing on the rules, making pirates and alien First Contacts extra deadly.

But if you want all space battles to be equally not-deadly, then dig out the ultra-tech solutions, like force fields. Make sure defenses outclass offense and take a long time to wear down.
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Old 07-09-2019, 11:56 AM   #8
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Default Re: How to make space combat more survivable?

Start with taking the hammers away. If you let people walk around the world with nukes every fight is dangerous. If you restrict these to military forces with very specific constraints on when they can be loosed then there aren't very many hammer blows you have to worry about. Even if you have missiles and no restraint there are a lot of reasons not to obliterate your enemy's ship like taking people alive or recovering data or cargo. Make sure players understand that there is a difference between strikes that will disable their ships and strikes that will eliminate it, discourage them from behavior that puts them in the later category.

When your players inevitably cross that line give them difficult maneuvers to evade missiles in smaller hulls, let them use crappy small rail gun turrets as point defense. Give them lots of alarms and red lights and running to crew shelter positions. If the ship is destroyed destroyed, let them patch their suits and swim through the debris to whatever still has air or to an escape pod, dragging anyone who's unconscious. A little lack of realism isn't the worst sin here..
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Old 07-10-2019, 04:09 AM   #9
night-hunter
 
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Default Re: How to make space combat more survivable?

First of all, Spaceships, like conventional naval ships should be compartmentalized, such that if a compartment is penetrated by a solid, explosive device, or energy beam, then UNLESS the compartment itself is somehow a part of the integral structure of the ship or contains explosive components that would totally destroy integral components of the structure, then personnel and ship functions which are not destroyed would be operational. I.E. slicing the ship into quarters would probably destroy engines and maneuverability, probably cause the loss of artificial gravity, would cause the loss of ship wide life support (loss of atmosphere in portions), but probably would NOT cause the loss of compartmentalized life support nor would it cause the loss of fire power of missiles or cannon. Beam weapons may or may not have their own power supplies, thus may or may not be compromised. Energy screens are a significant problem however, and are one of the things I was hoping that some on this forum could address. IF one postulates an energy screen that detects and/or automatically deflects meteors up to and including say 10 tons (ie mostly small rocks, but not much over large boulder size) then most incoming cannon fire and missiles would NOT penetrate or even be noticed, unless the round/missile somehow detects and nullifies said screen or explodes, and either of those situations sets off alarms. It's even worse, if one postulates an attempt by boarders to do so clandestinely, as they would be unable to penetrate said screen undetected, particularly if said screen is also a mass density detector (which is CURRENT tech). The OTHER issue is that of the Speed of Light being the limiting factor for beam weapons means that ALL space combat is going to be really low velocity ships within about 90K miles of each other (ie extremely close) due to time to target problems. This problem gets enhanced when the detection system is ALSO limited by the speed of light, such that information on the target location is obsolete when the beam is fired.

Last edited by night-hunter; 07-10-2019 at 04:19 AM.
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Old 07-10-2019, 11:53 AM   #10
Fred Brackin
 
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Default Re: How to make space combat more survivable?

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Originally Posted by Balor Patch View Post
One thing is don't have ships blow up. Recognize that lasers and extreme velocity rounds dump their energy at the surface of the target.
It's not at all hard to get kinetic energy missiles that will impact with the effect of kiloton nukes. That will happen at the surface layer of the armor anyway but it doesn't save anyone. Unless maybe your spaceships are larger than cities.

Superscience drives that make kk missiles impossible is probably te best place to start.
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