Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mecha Combat My Way (Part One)

Okay, so I've been hankering to run a mecha campaign someday.  Now, when I say "mecha" I really mean Robotech.  My introduction to the genre was a couple episodes of Robotech I randomly spotted on TV in my youth and that incarnation has stuck in my heart as the essence of the mecha genre.  More recently I discovered the Gundam series which has certain similarities.  If I'm going to run or play in a mecha game I want cool flying mecha, like the love child of a robot and a fighter aircraft.  And they should transform.  The lumbering terrestrial walking tanks of MechWarrior are not for me (and besides, the game isn't from Japan).

However, a mecha game featuring flying mecha means that speeds will be high, distances covered vast, and combat very much three-dimensional.  This calls for thinking on a grander scale than land combats.  It also calls for a very different approach to modeling combat.  You need to accommodate the speed, distances, and 3D nature of the combat in a satisfying way.  The combat system has to reflect the general nature of aerial combat yet be easy to run and allow for player creativity in 3D maneuvers.  From a design standpoint that leads to the conclusion that combats will have to be handled in an abstract way, part "theatre of the mind" (shudder) and part tactical diagram.

For an aerial dogfight you first need to determine the relative status of each partcipant:
  • Unengaged (UN)
  • Engaged with disadvantage (DIS)
  • Engaged with parity (PAR)
  • Engaged with advantage (ADV)
Unengaged: participant is currently too far away or in too complex a maneuver to attack or be attacked
Engaged with disadvantage: participant has one or more opponents in position to attack but cannot attack any of them
Engaged with parity: participant has one or more opponents in position to attack and but is able attack at least one of them
Engaged with advantage: participant is in position to attack one or more opponents who are unable to attack the participant

For each of the Engaged statuses there will be relative degrees of advantage/disadvantage as determined by various combat skill die rolls.  The higher the degree of advantage the higher the chance of scoring a hit and the higher the damage and chance of critical damage; in addition the higher the advantage the higher the chance of maintaining or improving the participant's current status.

Certain skill rolls influencing the battle will begin well before the dogfight begins.  These skills should include:
  • Maintenance - Today, high tech military equipment requires huge amounts of maintenance using expensive parts and highly trained personnel.  For a futuristic mecha game you could posit that parts can be made in high-tech 3D printers (replicators) and highly programmed robots do the maintenance.  However, the maintenance--and repair of battle damage--still must be performed.  Lack of maintenance or poorly done maintenance (a low skill roll) will lead to mecha going into battle with certain subsystems out of order or likely to fail at any time (especially in the stress of combat).
  • Strategy - The overall strategic commanders of the opposing forces (admiral of a fleet, air marshall of a planetary force, etc.) will make Strategy skill rolls.  You can handle this as an opposed roll with higher bonuses to subordinate units for larger margins of victory.  Or you can have separate rolls, where a success provides bonuses to subordinate units and failure provides penalties.
  • Tactics - The tactical commanders (probably of units of 12 mecha or less) make rolls in the same fashion as the strategic commanders.
 Now, mecha combat is really all about the pilots.  Thus the bonuses/penalties to the skill rolls of the PCs from the Strategy and Tactics rolls,should either be modest ones lasting throughout the dogfight or ones potentially larger ones which only last for the early rounds of the combat.  For BESM (which uses 2d6 to resolve rolls) I decided to go with opposed rolls for the Strategy and Tactics rolls, since it does represent pitting two commanders against each other,:
  • Rolls a critical success (natural 12 or beat opponent by 6 or more points): pilots get +3 bonus to rolls
  • Rolls a fiasco (natural 2 or lose by 6 or more points): pilots get -3 penalty to rolls
  • Rolls a success (beats opponent, but by less than 6 points): pilots get +1 to rolls
All mecha begin as Unengaged, unless one side gains surprise.  In a surprise attack the attackers begin Engaged with Advantage (ADV) and the defenders as Engaged with Disadvantage (DIS).  I would expect that surprise is something which would normally come about as part of the scenario or roll-played tactics, but you could have it that if one side rolls a natural 12 and the other natural 2, the side with the critical success achieves surprise.  Surprise only lasts 1 round after which the attackers can re-engage immediately, being considered Engaged with Parity or may zoom away and be Unengaged at some distance from the enemy.

I'll continue with another post going on into the rules once the dogfight is on.

Another factor which should probably be included is pre-combat sensor detection.  In modern air-to-air or air defense combat being able to detect the enemy first--and ideally to also be able to evade detection in return--is extremely important.  If you spot them first you can attack first.  Long range attacks would normally be made with missiles.  The defenders would get a chance to detect the missiles as they close even if they still can't detect the firing units.  Now if you want to model this part of modern combat, then there's a lot of detail about sensor types, sensor ranges, stealth, counter-measures, emissions control, etc. which all gets rather complex.

And this brings up the question of how technically detailed the rules should be during play.  A mecha game is a military science fiction game and the mecha themselves, with all their technical specifications, are sort of a second character for the player to build and play along with the pilot.  Thus playing a mecha pilot means knowing exactly what your machine can do and maximizing its potential.  Does your mecha have one or two packs of mini-missiles?  Do you want to trade one long range missile for a countermeasures pod?  Those sorts of equipment build and weapons load-out details are part of the attraction of the mecha genre.  Picking out your mecha isn't like buying a longsword and hide armor for your D&D barbarian character.  As I mentioned, it's almost like creating a second character.

However, I've noticed that wargamers and roleplayers are generally two distinct groups.  Yes there's some overlap but only some.  My gaming group seems to be mostly on the roleplayer end of the spectrum, although I'm pretty sure they've all wargamed some before (like me).  I know they're okay with moderate to high character/mecha detail (they like D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder) but I don't think all of them would want the game to go all wargamey-simulation when it's time for combat.  Actually, I think I'll sound them out on that next time we get together.

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