Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

“I’m sure that all of this data will be useful down the line….” NOT!

Devin Parker has posted about getting fed up with GURPS Vehicles in his recent attempt to design a space ship for his GURPS Firefly campaign.  He struggles on with it because he’s “sure that all of this data will be useful down the line,” but I just can’t see it.  Ship combat in science fiction falls into just a handful of archetypes– and most of the ship combat systems don’t come close to addressing them.  As far as your actual campaign is concerned, once you’ve got your deck plan, you’re done.  Everything else is driven by the demands of the narrative.

Think about it.  The dramatic action is always focused on a few key heroes.  If the characters are hopelessly outgunned, straight up tactical ship combat will not be the solution: everything will hinge on a clever trick or deus ex machina.  Characters will feverishly work to buy time as crewmen die and systems explode.  The really tough opponents will require the heroic sacrifice of the “fan favorite”– or at least a new non player-character that was introduced for the purpose.

Ship Combat, like any other in-game crisis, will be tailored to the assets and abilities of the heroes.  Rarely will they face a threat that does not require them to all work together.  Individual failure should be possible, but it should also be possible for the team to compensate in some cases.  In the case of a major failure, there might be still one last opportunity to save the innocent, but the players will pay a heavy price and the campaign will necessitate a new tone and direction.  Survivors should be shown the consequences of their decisions in later adventures and should be given an opportunity to set things right only if they weren’t flagrantly reckless or foolhardy.  Players that achieve a reputation for being complete morons should be forced to choose between a life outside of the primary society or perhaps a spot on a suicide squad instead.

But referees will never simply eliminate a group of players just because of a single lucky roll in a tactical ship combat system.  That’s crazy.  Narratives simply do not work that way.  Oh and the repairs and revenues are the same: The players are always going to be struggling from one job to the next– and even if they make it big, they’ll soon have to use their gains to overcome the next obstacle.  If the players are all big-time agents, then they won’t have to track expenses at all.  Do you think money was ever an issue for James Bond??

Players’ abilities will be the focus in any action.  The ship is generally hardwired into the setting and just determines the tone and style of the events.  The players’ choices and sacrifices will have to matter… and at the same time, the plot will have to be adaptable to a great many outcomes.  This is an art, not a science, and hence these techniques are not amenable to hard and fast tactical rule systems.  This makes the stats and figures in your ship designs largely irrelevant to a real game.


One response to ““I’m sure that all of this data will be useful down the line….” NOT!

  1. criticalfailuregame June 10, 2009 at 6:52 am

    My one complaint about GURPS is the level of technical minutia you somethings have to wade through. It’s great if you really want that detail, but occasionally it’s just far too dry to be worth it.

    Critical Failure – The GURPS Podcast

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