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%
 
Total votes: 11

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Sun Oct 23, 2016 12:59 am

Tyrel Lohr wrote:Since I'm continuing to spam the thread, another question:

Should maintenance fractions be reduced at the end of unit design? For example, if I have a unit with a maintenance cost of 2/4 should I reduce that fraction to 1/2? Or if I have 2/6 should it become 1/3?

This has been a sticking point for awhile, and I guess this is as good a time as any to ask what people think.

I can see the argument either way. Reducing fractions makes some maintenance groups look more appealing, especially when it is something like 4/6 reducing to 2/3. On the other hand, that unit has received a lot of modifiers to boost its maintenance to that level, and specialized units should probably have some maintenance inefficiencies.


I like the non-reduced maintenance levels. They encourage a particular maintenance group size - players should have more light cruisers than battleships, and 2/4 instead of 1/2 encourages players to have larger numbers of those same light cruisers once they commit to having at least one maintenance group of them in play.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sun Oct 23, 2016 1:45 am

BroAdso wrote:Here's my idea for how to represent a faction in one page. Still trying to address the dilemma of intuitiveness/nice presentation on the tech eras, see what you think of this method.

Presentation is always where a wrench gets thrown into the works. And I think what may be necessary is to have the universal list be its own one page sheet, and then have the +0% ships either be the Interplanetary Era or Era I for that empire.

The terminology issue we run up against is that if we agree that we are start in Era I, then I expect that I have unlocked Era I but may or may not have any units from that Era yet. That's why I was trying to slip the "Interplanetary" in there to disguise the +0% level and make it clear that is a baseline. Because when I think Era I, I really think "this is where my research begins". I have a bit of tech/units already, but I'm breaking into the "real" ships for the first time.

It's frustrating when we have the basic concept spelled out, but then we have to give everything a name :P

Going back to presentation, something I want to play with eventually is to see if there is room for a column in front of the Class Name where we can use a font symbol to put a simple box there. That way players can check off designs as they research them.

The idea that players start with all the universal units plus however many additional units they agree on is a great one. I think the "default" could be all the universal and all the Era 1 (+0% CP) units, so that the first unit the players discovers via tech unlock is their first choice among the Era 2 (+10%) units. That being a default certainly leaves other choices open - for example, they could start with their choice of 3/6 of their Era 1 units or something.

Yeah, the decision is what starting Tech Era and how many units are available from that Era already. What you describe above would then be written as a Tech Era II start with 0 units unlocked, as researching all 6 Era I units would automatically advance you to Tech Era II (so you can start researching Era II units). It gives a lot of flexibility for deciding what kind of game you want to play. You could play a Tech Era I / 0 unit game where you are just starting out and only have the -10% universal units and have to start from scratch trying to research new units while relying on the old ships for several years. That would be particularly painful (I know, this Prelude playtest showed me that not having at least a CL is very hard to work around!) early on, but it would make unlocking units profoundly important for gaining and upperhand.

Another consequence of this change to how units are unlocked is that you could then tie into with the Menagerie-style alien empire rules. For example, the bonus from being a Scientific Meritocracy might not be cheaper research (as it is now) but instead the ability to unlock units an Era ahead of your current Era. You'd still have to finish out the current Era before you could start researching further down the tech tree, but it would be a major advantage for that particular government type (the offset being that the bleeding edge technology makes all of their ships and bases more expensive to build).

BroAdso wrote:I like the non-reduced maintenance levels. They encourage a particular maintenance group size - players should have more light cruisers than battleships, and 2/4 instead of 1/2 encourages players to have larger numbers of those same light cruisers once they commit to having at least one maintenance group of them in play.

We've just had so many players complain over the years that the one extra frigate shouldn't be costing them an extra 2-3 EP, and how could we have done this to them, and they'll just scrap it, and on and on and on. To me the maintenance group breakpoints just help to emphasize that some units just more to run, especially in small numbers. That 2/4 maintenance is big when you have 5 units, but once you have 25 it becomes a lot less of an issue. That really just boils down to economies of scale.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Sun Oct 23, 2016 3:29 pm

Tyrel Lohr wrote:We've just had so many players complain over the years that the one extra frigate shouldn't be costing them an extra 2-3 EP, and how could we have done this to them, and they'll just scrap it, and on and on and on. To me the maintenance group breakpoints just help to emphasize that some units just more to run, especially in small numbers. That 2/4 maintenance is big when you have 5 units, but once you have 25 it becomes a lot less of an issue. That really just boils down to economies of scale.


Maybe find a way to emphasize or more fully flesh out this explanation in the rules? If players started out by realizing economies of scale and ratios among classes and fleet composition based on that should be part of their strategic planning at the beginning, it might be part of the fun of the game instead of a nasty surprise?

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Tue Oct 25, 2016 1:01 am

I've been thinking that we may need to have more sidebars in the book to reinforce certain key topics, like carriers, scouts, etc. Have a bit of art, a short bit of text, and go on about our business. Like with the maintenance issue, we could say something like:

Economies of Scale
The fractional maintenance costs used in VBAM players to build ships in full maintenance groups because it is individually more expensive to maintain one or two members of a class than it is to maintain a dozen. This abstractly represents that economies of scale help to drive down the overall cost of ownership as more and more of your factories are retooled to produce supplies for a single unit class.


I'm not sure if that's any good or not, but that's kind of a starting point. But it would provide the info without being inline in the rules. It would be sitting off to the side in a side bar like below (can't upload to imgur right now for some reason, so just attaching it).

sidebar-example.png
sidebar-example.png (121.43 KiB) Viewed 297 times


# # #

On another Tech topic, how do you guys feel is the clearest way to communicate the new Era unlock process? Do we call them unlocks, or just say "select a unit from your current Era" and then after 6 units you advance your Era by 1?

And should the ISD system be included as an integral second option, or moved to the optional rules?
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Tue Oct 25, 2016 4:03 pm

Tyrel Lohr wrote:sidebar-example.png


I like this! It helps players understand how to strategically choose their building orders to avoid unpleasant surprises and get the most usefulness out of each class they have in service.

Tyrel Lohr wrote:On another Tech topic, how do you guys feel is the clearest way to communicate the new Era unlock process? Do we call them unlocks, or just say "select a unit from your current Era" and then after 6 units you advance your Era by 1?

And should the ISD system be included as an integral second option, or moved to the optional rules?


I would suggest phrasing something like the following:

"When a player achieves a technology advancement, they may add a unit from the list of units in the current Era to their roster of units available to build. If the player can already build all the units in their current Era, the player moves to the next era and may select a unit to add to their roster from that era."

Alternately, advancing an era could take a tech advance all by itself. Then the player would advance their Era, and the next tech advance would let them choose their first ship from that era.

ISD should be either in the Engineering Manual or a rule in the optional rules chapter. It's useful, but Eras are significantly more effective.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Tue Oct 25, 2016 8:32 pm

BroAdso wrote:I like this! It helps players understand how to strategically choose their building orders to avoid unpleasant surprises and get the most usefulness out of each class they have in service.

Sounds like a plan then. Be sure to leave comments or add notes inline in the text wherever you think a sidebar would be beneficial and I can make sure to write something up and get those questions answered. I think that is the easiest way to address the issues without adding clutter to the rules. This coming from someone that loves to clutter up rules, mind you :)

Alternately, advancing an era could take a tech advance all by itself. Then the player would advance their Era, and the next tech advance would let them choose their first ship from that era.

I've found that you about have to get something at every tech advance, just to keep a carrot on the end of the stick to keep players wanting to invest in tech because they know they're get something for their efforts. The times where you've had substantial gaps you end up with some players just deciding it's not worth it and not investing in tech at all. (It happens more often than you would think!)

ISD should be either in the Engineering Manual or a rule in the optional rules chapter. It's useful, but Eras are significantly more effective.

I'll move that to the optional rules chapter, and let it fly on to another book if need be from there if the optional rules chapter ends up getting cut from Galaxies. I like optional rules, and they are a strength of VBAM, but it may end up being too much "stuff" in the main book. Keeping print copies in mind, I don't like getting much over 160 pages in order to keep the costs lower, and even then most games are 96 pages. We'll see how all that shakes out in the end.

That's also why tech and special ability rules options that aren't really core to the game will likely move to the Engineering Manual. ISD could go either way, but it has been the standard for so long I think keeping it in the main book if possible would be nice. Kind of like extended construction times and a few other other popular optional rules.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Emiricol » Thu Oct 27, 2016 4:32 am

You could make optional rules a free download, by just pulling into the book a URL for the file

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Thu Oct 27, 2016 4:57 am

Emiricol wrote:You could make optional rules a free download, by just pulling into the book a URL for the file

With the two 1E books I did, the spillover was put into a separate PDF file anyway, so anything that "doesn't fit" could be put into a similar companion piece and posted to the site for free download, sure.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Emiricol » Thu Oct 27, 2016 5:24 am

I must say, I agree with everything gstano said here. Easier to customize advancement rate up or down, linear growth in vessel strength, and pick-and-choose to reflect new designs being rolled out instead of the "get everything at once" paradigm.

I have an additional idea to add to that. Have the classes in each subsequent era be basically refits on a class from the prior era. But, have 1-2 completely new ship classes in each era with some sort of bonus that makes it slightly superior to its contemporary refitted classes. Require a lesser Research-type EP investment to "activate" the new era's individual refits (but the entirely new classes are unlocked when the new era is unlocked). Players must activate X% of the era's ship list to qualify to advance to the next era.

For example, you must unlock 5 of the 10 Early Years Era ships before being able to unlock the Middle Years Era. When the Middle Years Era is unlocked, then 2 entirely new classes are immediately unlocked, but 6 of tbe 12 Middle Years Era designs must have their Middle Years Refits unlocked before the player can unlock Advanced Era.

Does that make sense? Would it work?

gstano wrote: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 Emiricol » Thu Oct 27, 2016 6:02 am

And to clarify one thing - you can't unlock a refit until that class's prior refit is unlocked

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Fri Oct 28, 2016 12:34 am

Just because it's fun to have a working example of a unit list, here's a sample faction using the current system for Universal Units, ability costs, and tech eras. Minor error in the actual force list that the Ambassador should be a CB and the Nebula a BB, I'll go back and fix it soon.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Fri Oct 28, 2016 12:36 am

Emiricol wrote:I must say, I agree with everything gstano said here. Easier to customize advancement rate up or down, linear growth in vessel strength, and pick-and-choose to reflect new designs being rolled out instead of the "get everything at once" paradigm.

Yeah, you'd never want the empires to get everything at once. It's better to roll it out in waves. I'm still on the fence about if we need to have an "Interplanetary Era" before Era I that would be at a -10% like the universal list that has the really old / original units for the empire. That might make it easier for us to reasonably say that all empires start at Tech Era I but with nothing unlocked. You'd have six unique ships for your race at the lower level before moving into the "first" Era of the game.

That's the reason I think that the default first Era to be researched about has to be labeled Era I so that it's clear that this is where you're starting out. But I'm not sure how clear it really would be. For the sake of the new default rule assumptions, it is pretty clear that you're an empire that just discovered interstellar space travel and all that you would have is your interplanetary holdovers. Those units could be a +0% modifier, I guess, without it causing a lot of troubles.

If we go that route, then we would have Interplanetary (starter) and then Era I - IV, maybe? That would be a total of 36 units in total, compared to the 34 (?) that I think we have on each force list right now. So it would still be comparable. The derelicts and other "ancient" units could then be Era V (+50%) to make them still useful even to the end of the default tech tree. We could then release extended Eras later on to take the default empires out to Era X or something. Part of me thinks that going out that far would be a good idea, anyway, but I also have doubts if anyone would actually ever use them.

I have an additional idea to add to that. Have the classes in each subsequent era be basically refits on a class from the prior era. But, have 1-2 completely new ship classes in each era with some sort of bonus that makes it slightly superior to its contemporary refitted classes. Require a lesser Research-type EP investment to "activate" the new era's individual refits (but the entirely new classes are unlocked when the new era is unlocked). Players must activate X% of the era's ship list to qualify to advance to the next era.

I have a set of Variant rules in the Engineering Manual draft linked in the sticky thread that lets you get some extra life out of existing classes. I think straight class refits end up getting fairly boring. They could definitely work in some contexts, but the amount of graduation between classes isn't enough to differentiate between brand new classes and refits.

That all being said, let's talk about an optional class refit system that we could toss into Engineering Manual. The thesis is that we want to allow players to upgrade an existing unit class to use current tech, but at a resource cost to do so. The troublesome aspect of this is that you'd have to design the new upgrade by hand, because there is no clean "I gained a level, I get X points" option here. But let's say you calculate the new CP total and add the CP to the class (no moving other points around, you just add the new ones). The cost to develop the new class should be based on your tech advancement requirement, probably close to 1/2 or 1/4. So if you have 38 income then it would cost 10-19 economic points. The higher of those two costs sounds more reasonable, to stop with rampant proliferation. We can't use construction cost because, as with the 1E prototyping rules, it makes the cost to unlock new units way too low.

Now, that brings up another issue with allowing these class refits: it directly diminishes the importance of earning new tech advances because you can just effectively buy updated classes at your current tech year rather than having to wait and use a normal tech slot for that. This is a pretty significant problem in actual play, and we saw substantial abuse of the prototyping rules in some of our games to the point that players just create new unit classes on a whim and ignore research because they can completely redesign their empire's force list without any tech investment. I foresee some of the same potential abuse here.

That all being said, let's say we had an Era 0 (Interplanetary) destroyer (4 EP) that we want to upgrade to Era I. We could calculate that the upgrade would be 10% x 8 Base = +1 CP. I could then put this towards a stat and go my happy way. It would just cost me about 1/2 x System Income to do it. That would at least keep these upgrades to a minimum.

Or maybe the cost should be relative to the tech advancement gap between the units? So we could start with a base cost of 1/4 x System Income and then multiply by the Era jump. Going from Era 0 to Era II would then be 2/4 x System Income, jumping from Era 0 to Era III would be 3/4 System Income, etc. That isn't terribly intuitive, and I would welcome a better way of determining the cost to create the upgraded class. The trick is going to be to keep it cheap enough that it's still worth doing, but still expensive enough that there is an actual resource investment.

For example, you must unlock 5 of the 10 Early Years Era ships before being able to unlock the Middle Years Era. When the Middle Years Era is unlocked, then 2 entirely new classes are immediately unlocked, but 6 of tbe 12 Middle Years Era designs must have their Middle Years Refits unlocked before the player can unlock Advanced Era.

Does that make sense? Would it work?

It would in some settings, but I don't think it works as well for sample force lists simply because you'd end up doubling the number of units that would have to be created and populated on the force lists. For a sci-fi setting with a long history and lots of ship classes it makes lots of sense to keep it so that you only need to pick a few of them before advancing to the next era. But if we make the rules be "research 6 classes to unlock the next Era" then we would could build in via a CM note that you could add extra units to a force list in each era, but you'd still need 10 of them to advance to the next level.

The other option of course is to go whole hog and give more choices and then make it so you still only have to research 6 to advance. That would give us more room for niche units, like minesweepers and minelayers. I'm not opposed to that, but it does make the force lists more "cluttered" for lack of a better term. Feature rich, too, but still a bit dense on options :lol:

I know I'm a broken record, but tech has been one of the hardest aspect to balance in VBAM. You have to strike a balance between availability and advancement, and make sure that players actually want to invest in tech. It's too easy to end up with a system where there is no meaningful gains from tech investment so you don't do it, or there are other more effective avenues to unlock new unit classes. So far the best balance has been the 1E style "one unit per tech year" plan as that keeps new units appearing just often enough to keep things dynamic and interesting, but not so slow that you don't feel like you're going to get anything of value.

That's part of the reason I added the Variant rules that are over in the EM doc: it keeps players locked to a one-unit-per-advance model, but with the ability to deploy some extra variants to fill some of the mission gaps that their normal force list might have. They won't be as cost effective as purpose-designed ships, but they can get the job done.

I have had some fun games in the past where I could just prototype my own units, but those were in Starmada VBAM games where the research was just unlocking new abilities that I could use in my fleet. VBAM isn't that granular, and trying to handle research so that it unlocks special abilities doesn't work well at all. I know, I've tried that, and you end up having to manage huge long lists of what you have unlocked or not, and then it gets worse if you try to have levels in those abilities (ex: I have Scout Level 2, so I can now build ships with 2 Scout). It becomes a mess of bookkeeping that is tragically unfun.

In that regard, I think having an optional rule that you can just design your own ships rather than use a force list is probably going to fill that void better than anything else. That way you can design what you want, whether it's a completely new design or an upgrade for an existing class.

I guess to end this super long post, one other crazy optional rule: have a Starmada VBAM style macro/micro tech alternative where you have to use macro tech advances to increase your Tech Era but then micro tech advances to unlock new units at your current era. You could even have it work the same as those rules where with the micros you pick/design five different units and have to roll randomly to see what you get. I don't find that particularly appealing to me, but it is another option.

Okay, yet another option: have a fixed force list for each era that you pick units off of, then with the same rule that after you unlock X units at the current era you get to advance to the next era. That eliminates all uniqueness from the empires, but is a way to effectively deliver the much broader slate of units. I don't feel this is a very good option, but it's closer to what you see in many other 4X games where everyone is pretty cookie-cutter with only minor differences.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Fri Oct 28, 2016 12:41 am

BroAdso wrote:Just because it's fun to have a working example of a unit list, here's a sample faction using the current system for Universal Units, ability costs, and tech eras.

This example does demonstrate that we could have a few extra units per era and not have it be a huge problem. Star Trek is one of the better candidates for having the Eras be as big or small as desired, because you end up with a lot of tertiary ships that might not have received much screen time but still exist in the setting and should fit into a particular Era.

At that point we can choose to either put a hard limit of X units per Era before you advance to the next, or just say you have to unlock everything in the current Era before you move on. The X units is likely to be the more balanced of the two options to ensure compatibility between force lists.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Fri Oct 28, 2016 1:03 am

Tyrel Lohr wrote:Yeah, you'd never want the empires to get everything at once. It's better to roll it out in waves. I'm still on the fence about if we need to have an "Interplanetary Era" before Era I that would be at a -10% like the universal list that has the really old / original units for the empire. That might make it easier for us to reasonably say that all empires start at Tech Era I but with nothing unlocked. You'd have six unique ships for your race at the lower level before moving into the "first" Era of the game.


I am pro starting with a universal list at -10% and all the units (6-8) on a level 1 list already unlocked by default. For a slower start, a player could have only 1-2 or the Era I (+0%) list unlocked. This leaves three Eras worth of successful tech year advances (18-24), which is as long as most campaigns will last in all likelihood.

It's a clean solution that doesn't make the player make TOO many choices when writing up their initial force.

As to the rest of the ideas in the initial post: those would make a GREAT optional or engineering manual rules. I think a KISS approach to the base rules, in which
1) you have a list of units designed ahead of time,
2) divided into tech eras of 6-8 units each,
3) each advance unlocks a unit of your choice from your current era,
4) you being unlocking units from the next era once you unlock all the units in the current era
5) any ship of one class (DD, CT, CL, BB) can be deconstructed and "refitted" into any other ship of the same class by your shipyards for a fair EP cost.

These other rules are really fun and I like the idea of researching levels of scout, etc. But they don't need to be included by default.

If unlocking only preset units is too limiting, you could allow players to design a new unit at their tech level when they get an unlock, but they still have to finish ALL the preset unlocks before they can move to the next level, thus making them pay a price for the flexibility of getting just the right unit for their strategic situation.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Fri Oct 28, 2016 1:36 am

BroAdso wrote:As to the rest of the ideas in the initial post: those would make a GREAT optional or engineering manual rules. I think a KISS approach to the base rules, in which
1) you have a list of units designed ahead of time,
2) divided into tech eras of 6-8 units each,
3) each advance unlocks a unit of your choice from your current era,
4) you being unlocking units from the next era once you unlock all the units in the current era
5) any ship of one class (DD, CT, CL, BB) can be deconstructed and "refitted" into any other ship of the same class by your shipyards for a fair EP cost.

KISS seems to be the right way to go, as then we have a very firm basic structure that players can logically work through before adding any manner of optional rules to the mix. Waiting 6 years for each Era advance also seems to be just fast enough that I might consider dropping double points into tech investment to try and get two advances a year to get there faster.

The Refit rules in the core rules allow for #5, as long as you have a new ship class. I think what Emiricol is trying to achieve could probably be reached by making sure that you have a newer version of the ship as one of the future unlocks. It's like the Constitution to Enterprise (Constitution Refit) classes on your Federation list. They were both significant ship classes in that setting, so having the other one show up later makes sense and lets you do an upgrade if you so chose.

In other settings, with Babylon 5 you have several long running ship classes like the EA Hyperion or Narn G'Quan. The Hyperion had oodles of variants, whereas the G'Quan had one major upgrade in the B5W background (introduced in a fan supplement, but still). At that point, I would be inclined to have each major upgrade occupy another slot in the timeline. Of course, for that setting the ISD based tech advancement would really make more sense overall and sidesteps the entire problem.

These other rules are really fun and I like the idea of researching levels of scout, etc. But they don't need to be included by default.

Agreed, any of these advanced research options would work best in the Engineering Manual or a book like it. Have it just be a huge annex of alternative tech systems.

If unlocking only preset units is too limiting, you could allow players to design a new unit at their tech level when they get an unlock, but they still have to finish ALL the preset unlocks before they can move to the next level, thus making them pay a price for the flexibility of getting just the right unit for their strategic situation.

You could also make this contingent on getting that second tech advance through overpayment at the end of the year. At that point I would get rid of the overpayment penalty (allow a full 100% chance for the second class) but have the second tech advance give you a new original design, but it doesn't count against your other unlocks.

Overall, though, I really don't think forcing players to unlock all of the units in one era before moving on is going to cause any major problems. They're effectively doing that already, to the point that the tech progression (purposefully) about matches the 2E tech rules.

The longest campaign of my own that I can remember is one that ran about 10 years. Even with overpayment, that would only be 20 tech advances possible for every empire, and it's likely to be closer to 15 given the odds, and that's with full overpayment which is highly unlikely to happen.

If we had Era I (+0) be the start with maybe 2-3 classes unlocked, then I would definitely want to stick an Interplanetary Era 0 ahead of that to include another reserve of units. 10 starting classes has worked pretty well in the past in a general sense, but I've done 6-8 in the past and not had a huge problem. Of course I don't tend to have many bases, and typically one ground force and maybe a single flight. But if the universal list fills those gaps well enough at Era -1 I think most players could get by.

As I continue to meander through thoughts, the "Interplanetary" units could just as easily be included as a free web download or part of another book for "Early Years" campaigns, kind of a mini supplement that would include the extra 6 classes per empire for some personalized -10% Interplanetary classes. But that all comes down to what fits thematically. I would love to have the Early Years units available in situations where I did run into an empire with a "-1" starting Era. That way I could deal with this backwards empire that doesn't have much in the way of technology.
"Touch not the pylons, for they are the messengers!"


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