Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Blue? Green? Red? Refuse? It's time to talk about rules for a new community edition of the VBAM rules!

Tech Era or Tech Level?

Tech Era
6
55%
Tech Level
5
45%
 
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Tyrel Lohr
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Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sat Oct 01, 2016 4:06 pm

I wanted to throw up another thread to start as a jumping off point for discussions about changes to the tech and special abilities. I know this is going to be a big topic.

I just wanted to report that I've been playing around with the the design rules more and things seem a lot more solid than 2E. Specifically, using the Tech Era rules where each era advancement gives you +10% CP (round to nearest), I've been able to just churn out force lists for some powers. I spent last night looking at how you would handle the Federation from Star Trek in that system, and it became a pretty easy process once you started assigning ships to Eras based on the chronology of the series.

Era I: Enterprise
Era II: The Original Series
Era III: The Original Movies
Era IV: The Lost Years (pre-TNG)
Era V: The Next Generation / Early Deep Space Nine
Era VI: Post-TNG Deep Space Nine / Voyager

Units slot in nicely, and you only have to worry about the Era tech bonus and not an ISD based tech bonus. You can still assign ISD to set a predetermined advancement path, but then again you could also allow players to pick and choose units from their current Era when they advance. If I'm the Federation just moving into Era III, maybe I want to unlock the Excelsior before the Enterprise? Or maybe the Constellation is a better fit for my current fleet needs? Once you get about 10 units under your belt then you advance to the next Era and get to pick from units in the next set.

I think Star Wars would fit the same pattern almost perfectly, too:

Era I: The Phantom Menace + KOTOR
Era II: Attack of the Clones + Clone Wars
Era III: Revenge of the Sith
Era IV: Rebels + A New Hope
Era V: The Empire Strikes Back
Era VI: Return of the Jedi

For other settings, you have to look at the ships a bit more closely and figure out what time periods they would fit. Like with Babylon 5, you end up with the Earth Alliance looking like this:

Era I: Centauri Contact
Era II: Dilgar War
Era III: Earth/Minbari War
Era IV: Shadow War

That covers about 40 years of ground, which is just about right for that setting. It trims a bit here and there, and that might mean there is room for one more interim period, but the flow is pretty consistent.

I also kind of looked at something like Wing Commander to see if it holds up there, too. This is what I can see as being a possibility:

Era I: Wing Commander I
Era II: Wing Commander II
Era III: Armada/Privateer
Era IV: Wing Commander III
Era V: Wing Commander IV
Era IV: Prophecy

There is a bit of overlap there, because units that appeared new during one game would be from the next era. For example, the Rapier might be an Era II fighter, it would just be one of the first things unlocked. You could also break things apart more and have the Special Missions be their own Eras.

I'm adding a poll, too, to see if players prefer the term Tech Era or Tech Level? I can go either way. I have Empire Tech Levels as a concept in Companion, but that doesn't apply as well in Galaxies because I see viable alternatives to get around it. Planetary, Orbital, and Interplanetary tech levels would transfer fine, and Ascendant would just become a special case and could stand on its own if it had to. Geoff and I have developed enough content there to fill in gaps that I certainly feel that's the case.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby aelius » Mon Oct 03, 2016 4:55 am

Tech Eras works for me. I always liked the Empire tech ages from the 1E Companion.
It also works well if you wish to tie certain Special units or abilities to technical advancement.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Thu Oct 06, 2016 1:55 am

I really like the tech eras, and think they can combine well with the "board-4x" direction the Galaxies document rules are moving in.

Here's a mockup of a "faction sheet" for the Federation's Capella Sector command that starts with all Era I ships. 160 seems like a manageable total of points to split between civilian and military assets, giving the player a respectable military fleet to play with against Raiders or Neutrals on turn 1, but also not too much to learn how to manage. Working on a slow rewrite of a faction book overall to work with the new rules ideas, but for now this can function as both a look at translating a 2nd Ed faction book into Galaxies, and how a set list of standardized starting units and a home system for a faction might look.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Thu Oct 06, 2016 3:09 am

The thing that makes the Tech Era work great for conversions is that you can sort ships out pretty well into which Era you think they belong, and then just design all of them without the cumbersome per-year calculations that took forever in 2E. I think I could probably run through and knock out conversions of most of the 2E generic force lists in a weekend, though I'd probably need to add some more ships to add some missing ships here and there (probably 4 per Era, or about 16 units each?).

10 year Eras seems to be the best fit, with maybe an extra unit thrown in on the "Era 1" starting ships if we push their ISD back instead of all starting in 3000. I think your lists had 2990 - 3000 as the Era 1 ships, and then they immediately start on Era 2. Which works fine.

After just 7 turns in my Prelude game, I think I can confirm that you definitely don't want to start empires off with only midget ships because that 4X trope doesn't scale well to VBAM. Having only CT and DD is very painful. I would kill for a good CL, let alone a CA!

Your Federation starter fleet is a good example of a balanced starting force. You have some good variety and options available, including the Excelsior CA with decent CR.

Start from scratch would seem to work better with our escalating stats, too, because when you're first starting out you're not going to have fleets so large that you'll be pushing up against your task force command limits, but as your fleets expand your tech will advance and new classes will become available that allow you to field the larger task forces.

I've always had good luck with 5 x Total System Output for starting points. That would leave you at 120 points instead of 160 points, but if your Raw had been 1 point higher you would have had 150 points instead. But I agree that setting a fixed starting point total is vital if the players roll randomly for their homeworlds. At least then everyone starts on an even footing at the start of the game.

BTW, love the new avatar!
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Thu Oct 06, 2016 3:33 am

And because this is the kind of thing I love for, here is some thoughts on what I would do if I was handed the Federation faction list and 160 EP to spend.

First thing's first, we need some infrastructure at our homeworld. That means a Shipyard (20), Supply Depot (20), and a Trade Fleet for the money (20). That burns through 60 points and leaves us with 100 to spend on the good stuff.

I would need to get some of those Scouts out there, too. That's priority number one. No matter which variant of the exploration rules you use, you'll want lots of them. The two available Scouts are pretty expensive (8 and 9, respectively, for the Constellation and Excelsior). That's a lot of eggs in one basket if things go badly. At just Scout 1 each, with the 1E exploration adaptation I pushed to Galaxies in the last update, I would need three of these ships to get a +2 bonus (for a 20% chance of success per turn). I would be sorely tempted to go with a 1 x Excelsior + 2 x Constellation pairing. That's 25 EP of ships and another 7 EP of flights (to fill the bays with Hawks), for a total of 32 EP per scout fleet.

At that cost, I could have two of these scout fleets for 64 EP. That leaves 36 EP left. I could afford another Excelsior to use as the command ship for my Home Fleet (9 EP) and to finish out that Excelsior maintenance group. Now I have 27 EP to spend. I would probably go with a combination of Miyazaki and Miranda just to have the numbers to keep raiders at bay. My current raiding chance at homeworld is 10% (base) + 30% (3 civilian units) = 40%. Each ship in the home system reduces that by 5% (or 10% for Police ships). That means I need at least 8 ships to drop the chance to the minimum 1% raiding chance. Purchasing 3 Miranda (12 EP) and 5 Miyazaki (15 EP) would get me just underneath that level.

But, wait, as always I have forgotten my ground units :?

In that case, I'm afraid 2 Miyazakis are going to need to be traded in for 3 Starfleet Security (or just 1, if the costs end up being increased to address one other 2E complaint of ground units being too cheap).

That gives me a solid core set of exploration vessels that can go out and scout around and see what they can find. I'd hate to lose any of those fleets, though, which would be a bummer.

Now, if I'm understanding what your take on Explorer is, BroAdso, each of those Explorer ships is giving you a +1 bonus to your exploration roll, aren't they? In that case, then that would be a better setup. The other interpretation is Scout = CC for exploration purposes, so it would scale with size (keeping the EA Explorer in mind again here), which would still yield the same results for these ships. In that case your scout fleets are much better situated for the mission than what I set up. Hmm.

If the above is correct for what you have in mind, then I'd definitely invest in enough of those Constitutions to spam out at the start to get a reasonable bonus to my exploration roll. Three of them would give a 2 Scout equivalent per ship for the purposes of exploration, which would be a +4 bonus (40% chance of success, and only a 10% chance of being in peril!). That would definitely make Explorer a great ability for that role, and the EA Explorer at around CC 5 or CC 6 would definitely be able to go explore along the rim solo, because it would have a 50/50 shot of exploring a new system every turn!
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Thu Oct 06, 2016 10:49 am

I am assuming that we're using an exploration variant in which Scouts get an exploration bonus equal to their Scout level, and Explorers get an exploration bonus equal to 1/2 their CC as well as immunity to "lost and in peril" supply level loss. Scout still costs 2 construction points and increases both cost and maintenance, while the new Explorer is a non-construction point ability which just increases maint.

Each tech era should have a preset number of unit slots, but that can vary from setting to setting. I'd say 6-7 is the minimum and 13-14 is the maximum though. Each setting might be unique, but a good "template" for players is to have the initial faction's 10 units broken down into six ships, one of which is an explorer and one of which is a scout. They should also begin with one Base, two Ground units, and one Flight.

A straight 200 points for factions to use at the start might work better than the 160 I was working with, so that the players can more easily have several transport convoys or a colony convoy to begin with.

And the new avatar is fun - though TAS is cheezy, it came on Netflix and I shrugged and gave it a try in the gym. It increases my enjoyment of one of my already-favorite Twitter acounts, @Swear_Trek (http://sweartrek.tumblr.com/), too.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby gstano » Sat Oct 15, 2016 3:54 am

I am getting caught up on the new Galaxies material.

My first impression is that I like the Tech Era concept. I do like the simplicity that the eras offer to generate ships as you are not worrying about individual tech years. It also helps with crossover scenarios as you can match up eras even if you are using the source material's native years. The eras can be increased in time to represent a slower progression or you can follow the trend to create some very low- or high-tech units.

Also, while this is less of an issue for larger units, by using the eras to get a 10% change this helps very small units get an extra construction point or two, whereas with tech years these small units may not get anything for many years.

Tyrel, I also like the idea that as you shift to the new era you can start choosing vessels instead of just getting everything. It creates a nice dynamic as the power begins shifting into the better technology.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sat Oct 15, 2016 6:20 am

My conversion of Federation (using BroAdso's conversion as a baseline) and Earth Alliance ships seems to indicate that at least those two universe can be made to adhere to the Era system's tech advancement rate with only minor issues here and there. The Star Trek ships in particular fit the model well, as it became fairly natural to break them into logical groups by Era and then figure out their stats accordingly.

Both conversions required me to have a "Tech Era 0" to place older classes into, with those classes having a penalty, but I could have adjusted the rest up or down a level to make them fit without a huge amount of difference.

You're right that the Eras do make it easier to shift back and forth between different source materials, as then even if the ISDs don't match you can still compare "apples to apples" and grab the Era 1 ships from two different settings and play against each other in a fair game.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Sat Oct 15, 2016 1:57 pm

Tyrel Lohr wrote:Both conversions required me to have a "Tech Era 0" to place older classes into, with those classes having a penalty, but I could have adjusted the rest up or down a level to make them fit without a huge amount of difference.


For the sake of easy memorization, why not just make the era number match the bonus? Era 0 ships have the base value of CP, Era I has +10%, Era II +20, Era -1 -10%, and so on.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Wed Oct 19, 2016 10:53 am

In the new unit design system, now that fighters can cripple and fight in ways similar to normal ships, should abilities still cost more to equip fighters with? In 2E, giving a fighter an ability costs more than giving the same ability (like Scout or Guardian) to a ship, if I remember right.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Wed Oct 19, 2016 1:11 pm

BroAdso wrote:In the new unit design system, now that fighters can cripple and fight in ways similar to normal ships, should abilities still cost more to equip fighters with? In 2E, giving a fighter an ability costs more than giving the same ability (like Scout or Guardian) to a ship, if I remember right.

I think they still need to pay double CP for special abilities if only because it is easy to field more flights than ships in a battle (Tenders withstanding). The higher point costs for special abilities still seems to balance out for flights, and while they can cripple in battle I'm still having them auto-heal at the end as a matter of expediency so you don't have to track crippled flights outside of combat.

You can still build a BB sized supercarrier with CV 15 and load it with Assault shuttles and have a scary looking Assault ship when you're all said and done. Even an Assault 1 shuttle flight would allow that supercarrier to carry 15 construction cost of ground forces, which is quite a bit!
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Wed Oct 19, 2016 4:46 pm

Another question to ask with tech is if we want to maintain the ISD / Tech Year based tech progression or move to an Era based system like Endless Legend where each unit/tech is assigned to an Era and you have to research and unlock a certain number of units per Era before you can begin unlocking units from the next highest Era.

If we went that direction, you would have a group of like 10 units in Era I, and once you research X of them then you could begin researching units from Era II.

The advantage I see is that players would have more control over determining the order that they unlock units in each Era, and if the number of units present per Era is greater than the number required to unlock the next Era you could see some variability in fleets even if two players were playing as the same empire.

The disadvantage is that players would have to keep track of which units they have actually unlocked as they couldn't just look at their Tech Year and figure out what they could build. So there would be more bookkeeping involved.

The Tech Years work better with historical scenarios where units are supposed to unlock in a specific order to fit that particular setting.

Another thing worth discussing is how much value players find in the predefined sample empires and their force lists. Are the 2E-style construction rules easy enough to use that players would rather just design their own units as the game progresses? The pregen force lists seem to make it easier to jump in and play and set up new empires, so I think there's value there, but I'm also not sure how many Tech Eras/Levels we need to accommodate in the base game. The problem I foresee if this becomes a published book is that we could end up needing multiple pages for each force list. That wouldn't be bad if we did commission art for the factions and had a two-sided sheet setup so that on one side you'd have a picture of the alien, a synopsis of their background, and then the rest of that sheet plus the other side would show all of the units (broken down by Era or Type, whichever is most useful). Then players could print them out double-sided and have them for reference.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby aelius » Wed Oct 19, 2016 7:38 pm

I prefer the tech year inside the tech era setup. Since I never actually limit how many designs an empire can field I would have literally no use for the unlocking units method.
As to the predesigned forces I think they are a good idea. But I wouldn't bother with upper tech designs for them. As you say they are there to provide examples and get people started right away. By the time they are ready to need higher tech ships they will have the tools to design whatever they would like.
I don't mind a designated progression of predesigned ships for an adapted or created setting. That's just part of that kind of game and I enjoyed it with Federation and Empire. But for a 4X game I want to control my shipbuilding and design, like in my old Starfire games.
Off topic, but I have to say it. I think that VBAM is the best of both of those styles of play. I love the flexibility and the way you can scale it up or down. For galacric 4X play I prefer the hex sector method with scales up for time. For the more setting specific WAP style play I prefer wormhole connected systems with the advanced sysgen rules. And the one set of rules covers both. Kudos.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Wed Oct 19, 2016 9:15 pm

Have you run into problem with empires just creating an unlimited number of designs? I ran into major issues during 2E's development with players just prototyping new classes willy nilly and ignoring tech advancement entirely because they could just design whatever they wanted whenever they wanted and start building it. The only thing that seemed to curb that kind of behavior was gating new classes behind tech advancement.

The delineation between empires is subtle enough as it is that building whatever kinds of ships you want ended up causing things to become pretty "cookie cutter" and players could just replace all of their existing unit classes and just do something completely different without any constraint other than having enough economic points to churn out the new units.

If there is only an interest in starting units (basically Era I / TL+0), then that would be very easy to provide. It does lead to the question of whether players should be expected to design new units at each tech advance or to keep the ISD system intact. The ISD system is obviously best for predefined settings and scenarios, but for freeform campaigns it's generally easier to allow the player to design whatever they want at that point. I know in my exploration campaigns I like deciding what new ship my empire needs and introducing it. The bane of the ISD force list system is having a force list where you have like three years where you get an upgraded starbase, ground force, and flight. You just kind of roll your eyes and ask yourself, "what am I going to do with THESE?!"

Some of my more memorable tech advances were in games where I choice my own tech advance, too. I remember the one old Wookiees + Cardassians solo campaign from way back where the Trilarians (from MOO2) got a tech advance that gave them a new ship (I had like a +20-25% chance each tech advance of a new unit in that game) and they were lucky because they needed a new light cruiser to protect them against the invading Ur-Quan Kohr-Ah -- who had just got done wiping out the Miradorns over on the other side of their empire and had found a route into Trilarian space. The light cruiser's stats aren't memorable, but I distinctly remember how important being able to unlock that new class was to the game. The Trilarians ended up getting aid from the Wookiees and their Victory class star destroyers, and they were able to push the Kohr-Ah back and destroy their massive superdreadnought.

There was another random 2E playtest game where I remember actively choosing to build a supply ship or tug because I needed one for some reason. Normally that wouldn't happen, but since it was my choice I went ahead and did it.

If the design rules were made cleaner I could see just creating a chapter in the back and putting them there, and then referencing them from the Tech Phase section. I could also create a slate of generic ships for Eras I-III or something like that you could choose ships from with rules for adjusting stats based on faction. Actually, let me start a poll in another thread and we'll see how many people actually used the sample empires or just created their own. That might be illustrative of at least how the "diehard" VBAMers have been using the rules.

Thanks for the kind words! Part of what brought me to VBAM in the first place is that it was an approachable PnP 4X that had a lot of room to maneuver. Which is part of the reason I wrote so many rules for it back in 1E. I basically took what Jay and Byron wrote in the original VBAM draft and just started layering on new options to extend the rules. Like you said, you can use the rules for everything from a galactic grand strategy campaign to a small game with a dozen detailed systems where the focus is on managing a small empire and completing missions. And the bookkeeping is light enough that it's feasible to run the game solo without a huge time commitment (at least once the rules are completely nailed down :o ).
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Thu Oct 20, 2016 10:54 am

Using the Galaxies document, I drafted a quick look at a way to organize the abilities list and re-chart some of the costs to make them clearer. The Tech Era system can make designing quicker, so a good reference chart for abilities is better than ever to keep track.

I'll draft up what some of the actual abilties mean in more detail later, but there are some notes on their rules as far as I understand what's in the galaxy document. Inefficient replaced "Ammo" in name only, and I tried my own idea for the effect of the ground trait "mercenaries," Those are the main changes.
Testofnewabilities.pdf
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