I tried a practice run through of the T4 space combat rules: just a standard duel between two TL 12 10 ton “Light Fighters.” This really isn’t a fair test of the system– it’d be like judging Car Wars based on a duel between two body armor wearing pedestrians having a long range shoot out using only heavy pistols. My first impressions were positive. While not particularly exciting, the rules were fairly easy to follow and relatively uncluttered. Of course, the fighters are restricted to shooting it out in the point-blank range band, so there are not a lot of options for maneuver.
In my test run, both fighters had to roll a 5 or less on two dice to score a hit. The fighters lack a lot of fancy equipment, so critical hits tend to not do much. To completely finish off a fighter it takes 5 hits with the point defense laser. And with that you have a nice little probability problem for the aspiring actuary: what is the expected number of rounds it takes to finish a fighter duel? In my case, one fighter scored a lucky hit on the other and took out its laser battery. While the other attempted to flee, the fighter continually tried to close and keep firing. It took a total of 37 turns to finish it. That’s 370 minutes of game time, or six hours and ten minutes!
When opponents have equal maneuver ratings, the initiative is determined by flipping a coin. To escape a battle, the fighter would have to win initiative three times in a row to get to long range. Of course, even if he succeeds in breaking off, I think the attacking fighter can elect to pursue.
Anyways, I saw several places where the rules could be improved:
1) Critical Success and Critical Failure effects are not defined for skill rolls in space combat. Addressing that could go a long way toward adding at least a possibility of a satisfying coup-de-gras moment in the above scenario.
2) The initiative step is more or less geared towards a face off between opposing fleets: the side with the most ships and highest leadership skill can close or pull away as it pleases. The fifty-fifty approach used above is very unsatisfactory– surely there are other factors that can impact this all-important step.
3) T4 has been criticized for giving too much weight to attributes in its task system. In space combat, however, attributes have no impact at all! (This mismatch leads me to believe that these rules were mostly lifted from previous versions of Traveller without much thought to integrating them into a new vision of how things should work. It looks like an opportunity to provide a “last word” on space combat was carelessly passed by.)
4) The no-effect critical hit results are very depressing. They ought to at least force the characters of the target vessel to have to make some sort of saving throw to avoid problems. Think R2-D2 locking down the stabilizer on the x-wing or putting out the fire on the Falcon.
5) The jamming and sensor rules are pretty confusing. The terms are defined, the step is there, and there’s a table of modifiers… but what really happens here is not spelled out. Evidently a successful jamming attempt can break an opponent’s sensor lock, or make it harder for them to get a lock to begin with. But the difference between active and passive sensors are not addressed even though the choice is explicitly referenced.
6) There are not a lot of choices in this vision of space combat. Perhaps a paper-rock-scissors choice could be made at the beginning of each turn… with a matrix of the results creating bonuses for later steps or creating new contests of skill. On the other hand, perhaps Traveller space combat is intended to be dry and without a lot of surprises. I’m not sure about this.
7) There are no effects for morale or endurance.
Looks like a lot of room for improvement. :(