Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Thousand Suns Readalong Chapter 6: Action

The core of the combat system owes more to old school D&D than it does to either Traveller or GURPS. Probably the most important rule in GURPS that got me to buy into it back in the eighties was that movement rating was derived from attributes and encumbrance made some kind of sense. It strikes me as a bit odd that in Thousand Suns we get something that’s practically isomorphic to the rules in my 1980 Moldvay basic D&D set. Surprise is implemented with what GURPS would call a Quick Contest instead of the venerable d6 roll that happens to be used in both D&D and GURPS. The rules for the tactics skill here are actually the best that I’ve seen for that anywhere, as I usually just make up a random bonus for that when players want to roll it in other games. (It’s probably been done before in other games, but it is new to me.) Initiative… ah, initiative. I always thought it made Battletech a bit silly, even though it sped up play for it in comparison to CAR WARS and Star Fleet Battles. I think group initiative rolls in Moldvay Basic D&D makes every encounter arbitrarily dangerous to the point of total party kill levels, which is probably why Thousand Suns game masters  are directed to use either individual or group initiative rolls at their discretion. This is one area where GURPS is probably faster– with initiative always being individual and based on a secondary attribute, you can seat people in basic speed order and always know who is going to go when.

The multiple actions rule looks like something that would make Veteran military characters quite scary and is probably a better rule than what we saw in the old D&D and Gamma World games. The range system looks more or less like what we had in Traveller, but you have generic range penalties instead of having penalties on a range/armor cross-reference table. Of course, the damage system is base damage times degree of success… so altogether we’re getting something that’s maybe 50% D&D, 20% GURPS, 20% Traveller, and 10% Gamma World. That’s an amusing combination. There’s a lot more detail for automatic weapons, unarmed combat, and healing, but I can’t really parse that stuff until I work my way through some sample combats. The most obvious omission is anything about real tactical combat with a map– I could be wrong, but I think these rules assume you are going to play old school D&D style without any miniatures. I think there’s enough information here to run a man-to-man combat game just fine on an old CAR WARS city map or Traveller deck plan, but there are no illustrations, pictures, or comments that would encourage you to do that. There are no examples of combat here at all actually… which is odd because I probably learned to play games more by reading those than anything else back in the day. (The illustration for Ogre combat from the black plastic box edition is burned in my consciousness– what great way to communicate a lot of game information in an extremely accessible way. It’s still useful when I teach the game today.) The main thing I use the example combats is as a check. I read the example… then look back at the rules to see if I’d have made a different ruling than what the author is describing. Anything mentioned in there that I didn’t know about… that’s what I’d go back and read.

The social rules actually have more granularity than GURPS Basic Set– with those rules, the players normally just do a social skill check to force a good reaction. In Thousand Suns, you having explicit rules for nudging people’s attitudes that are based on will scores and degrees of success. The real gem here is the suggestion that NPC’s should be able to use these rules against the players. The illustration used for that has actually come up in my games. A femme fatale can finally do a number on the combat monster parties even when the players all know she is the bad guy already! The place where the ball got dropped here is where combat and social influence interact. I think there should have been some kind of optional morale system that was implemented as an extended test… with leadership skill tests and will checks affecting the running tally of the degrees of success. Something like that. Oh well, I guess they can save that for the big “mercenary” splat book….

These are the things I saw that had me scratching my head:

  • p 90: “described on the next page” (Aren’t we on the correct page?)
  • p 105: Why do you add your skill rank to your degrees of success in a Skill Test in the example here? Did I misunderstand something?! I’m flipping around in the rules and I don’t see anything that says to do that. Your degree of success is your margin, period. All modifiers apply to your target number… and are irrelevant once you start rolling the dice. That was my impression, anyway.
  • Action points were not mentioned at all in this chapter, so I don’t know how they interact with the combat system. Does the game break if players can spend the points as they please…?

4 responses to “Thousand Suns Readalong Chapter 6: Action

  1. RogerBW January 17, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Rounds are arbitrary time. Oh dear; that means vehicle movement in combat is intrinsically broken. I suppose I’m not meant to care. But what if the PCs are ambushed, and are trying to get their vehicle over the starport line before the local cops disable it? I need to know how many rounds it’ll take…

    I don’t see any indication of whether initiative is rolled once per character, one per combat or once per round. My GURPS cheat-sheet (which runs off GCA files) automatically lists the party in action order, which is dead handy for a harrassed GM.

    At least armor absorbs damage rather than being integrated in a single “to-hit-and-damage” process.

    • jeffro January 17, 2012 at 8:27 am

      I don’t think the undefined rounds can survive to a hypothetical second edition. I normally try to give games a chance and not house rule them until after a few sessions, but I have to fix this before I can play. (The deal breaker was that the vehicles listed later have their speeds in terms of kph, not rounds.)

  2. Douglas Cole October 27, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    Personally, I like the rules for Tactics in GURPS 4e – it’s optional, but the contest of Tactics gives you “re-rolls” that can be handed out (sometimes this can require a Leadership skill test, sometimes you just give ’em out) that gives a mechanical way to enforce “thanks to my superior tactics, this blow hit where it would have missed,” or whatever. The more the contest is won by, the larger the number of re-rolls that you can get.

    It’s been very effective in play.

  3. John E. Boyle October 28, 2016 at 9:34 am

    I’m glad it wasn’t just me that was confused by some of the things in this chapter.

    p 90 “described on the next page” where the next page is an illustration. But then I noticed it was in the next paragraph.

    p 105 The Bureaucracy example: I got lost here. I mean, when did they bring up adding skill ranks to degree of success before this? Or is this only done for social interactions? (Which I WILL be using against my players).

    Action points: As you pointed out, they are not mentioned at all in this chapter, yet they are presented as a primary tool for player participation elsewhere. I’m just going to let my players spend them as they please, and we’ll see what blows up.

    Morale system: should have been done here, but I can jury-rig that.

    Rounds and Distance covered: Wow, I missed that because I had not looked at the vehicular stats yet. Yeah, that has to be fixed prior to play.

    This chapter gives me the impression that they might have been rushed a bit getting this into production.

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