Monthly Archives: March 2015

Contested Combat WIP

thoughts on how to make contested combat rolls work so combat is much faster and more lethal



The standard way of doing combat is to have a long list DMs covering all the options which slows the game.

So how do you simulate a firefight without lots of DMs?

What are the key points?

1. Effective armor modifies this general rule but except in the context of surprise characters should almost never be standing out in the open in a fire fight – they should either be in hard cover or running for hard cover

2. As a consequence tactics involve weight of fire, suppression, fire and movement etc i.e. the defender will try and put down enough fire to prevent the attackers moving forward while the attackers try to put down enough fire to either make the defenders bug out or to suppress them enough to allow a detachment to outflank or assault

3. Although weight of fire is the dominant factor, morale, leadership and tactics can be critical also.

How can the key points be abstracted into as simple a system as possible (aka fast system) while still simulating the key points enough to allow player decisions.


Key Point

In the above context what could weapon skill be reasonably defined to mean? It could be defined to mean not just weapon skill itself but also the surrounding skills i.e. use of cover, fire and movement etc. If defined this way a target’s weapon skill could be used to contest the attacker’s weapon skill.


Skill Covers (Almost) Everything Firefights

So in its simplest form say you have two characters firing at each other both with rifle-2, assume they’re using both cover and their weapon according to their weapon skill so both roll 2d6, add their weapon skill DM, winner wins.

rule #1 surprise and encounter distance as book

rule #2 two states, in cover or not

rule #3 sequence

  • flee
  • tactics action (success adds DM+1 to team’s weapon skills)
  • leadership action (success DM+2 team’s remove suppression)
  • action

rule #4 actions

  • fire/attack
  • run to cover (side or forward)
  • run to cover firing (side or forward)
  • assault (close range)
  • flank (close range, suppressed flank)
  • retreat
  • remove suppression

rule #5 highest skill goes first

  • being attacked is the attacked character’s turn also

rule #6 cover

  • cover is by area not by character
  • character assumed to be using weapon skill to make use of available cover
  • cover bonus +0 to +4

rule #7 cases

  • fire vs fire (cover bonus applies to both)
  • fire vs run to cover firing (cover bonus vs half cover bonus)
  • fire vs run to cover (cover bonus vs half cover bonus)
  • fire vs assault (cover bonus defender only)

rule #8 contested rolls

  • winner wins
  • winning roll needs to be 8+
  • each skill rank gives DM+2
  • cover bonus if applicable

rule #9 : a character running to cover can use a melee skill to dodge if it is higher than their ranged skill

rule #10: if a character running to cover wins a contested roll they don’t get hit but they don’t hit the firer either

rule #11: a character running to cover (or assaulting) can choose to fire from the hip, this only gives a DM+1 per skill rank rather than DM+2 but does produce a hit if the runner/assaulter wins

rule #12 : if the winner wins by +1 or +2 they score a suppression; +3 is a hit, +6 is two hits etc

rule #13:  suppression

  • can’t move or shoot while suppressed except to flee or retreat
  • remove suppression on 8+ (cover bonus applies)
  • firing at suppressed character – contested roll but suppressed doesn’t hit if wins

rule #14

  • mooks can only take one hit
  • special NPCs are wound first
  • large  creatures may have multiple wounds

rule #15

  • a character on the flank facing a suppressed enemy on the opposing flank can flank
  • character moves on to same range band and fires, moves back
  • enemy gets no cover bonus


Basic Example

(ignoring armor and weapon types for now)

smuggler (pistol-3) and wookie pal (melee-2) in an argument with bad guys (pistol-2, pistol-1, melee-1) in a cantina when it goes aggro

say cover in the cantina is all DM+2

no surprise.


round one

smuggler has highest skill so goes first, dives for cover while shooting from the hip at the pistol-1. smuggler has DM+3 for skill (running / diving for cover while shooting from the hip gets DM+1 per skill rank instead of DM+2) and DM+2 for cover for DM+5. the pistol-1 stands and shoots for DM+2 -> 15 vs 6 or +9 to the smuggler so two hits and pistol-1 goes down.

wookie melee attacks the melee-1 for DM+4 vs DM+2 -> 9 vs 9 -> fight continues

pistol-2 dives for cover


round two

smuggler and pistol-2 trade shots, DM+8 (skill + cover) vs DM+6 (skill + cover) -> 18 vs 16 -> pistol-2 suppressed

wookie vs melee-1 -> DM+4 vs DM+2 -> 12 vs 4 -> +8 -> two hits -> the melee-1 gang member drops


round three

pistol-2 is suppressed but can choose to flee so flees (goes first) and runs for door firing from the hip at wookie, wookie dives for cover -> DM+2 (pistol-2 only gets DM+1 per skill rank as firing on the move) vs DM+6 (wookie using melee-2 skill to defend for DM+4 plus DM+2 cover) -> 8 vs 13 -> miss

smuggler fires at fleeing pistol-2 -> DM+6 vs DM+4 -> 16 vs 11 -> hit, pistol-2 is wounded


round four

pistol-2 staggers out of the cantina wounded. smuggler and wookie leave the cantina by the other entrance before guards or reinforcements arrive.


Different Weapons (WIP)

Weapons should be different because choice of weapon is a characterful thing so… range DM: melee, short, medium, long ranges.

Pistol: +2 / 0 / – / –

Shotgun: +4 / +4 / – / –

Rifle: 0 / 0 / +2 / +2

Auto Weapons

burst bonus marked (b). suppression bonus marked (s).

suppression fire: DM+2 but if a hit is scored then it counts as two suppressions

burst fire: a hit counts as two hits

Auto Rifle: -2 / 0(b) / +2(s) / +2(s)

Assault Rifle: -2 / +2(b) / +2(s) / -2

SMG: 0 / +4(b) / 0(s) / –



Sparked by this youtube vid



Using DnD as example howabout a player has a pre-determined Fate in the form of their own mini saga and a player “levels” by achieving their Fate

For example the first two lines of one player character’s saga might be:

“Snurri Halfspear / slayer of Lackscale”

and another’s

“Kyra the Waterkin / born of the one-eyed man into the darkness”


(In a dark age setting i like to use the fact that sea levels rose dramatically after the ice age and so around the coasts there are many sunken towns and temples – also a bit of Cthulhu in everything just cos


Then in the game world there is a big rock facing out to sea on a cliff with a much weathered idol of Odin (the one-eyed man) carved into it. There’s a hole between the statue’s legs that drops into a water pool of an underground stream heading down (born into darkness).

At the bottom of this shallow pool there is a broken spear, magical, say +1/+3 vs reptilians or aquatic creatures or something like that, glows pale blue when critters like that are near, broken at the shaft and can’t be fixed non-magically so spear acts as a short sword.

Beyond the pool there is a long airless tunnel which they can’t get past without water breathing.

In the course of trying to find out how Kyra can learn to breath underwater they learn of deep one attacks led by a too strong large blue scaled deep one with a lot of the scales on his left shoulder and neck removed somehow by a wound. Kyra learns how to water breathe (Waterkin) and they go back to the tunnel where they discover it is a back entrance to the deep one leader’s lair giving them the advantage of surprise (slayer of Lackscale).


So the players can do what they like but only level when they achieve their fate.

Players can write their fate or at least agree to it – especially nickname.

One to four lines at a time?

GMs can add specific solutions into the game that fit the player’s fate and/or the player’s may figure a plausible alternative that fits.


Once the players have achieved their first set then add some more.

My 3rd Imperium: History


Official 3rd Imperium History

The Traveller 3rd Imperium setting has an official history with the players starting in year 1105.

which says the 3I has been running the Spinward Marches for c. 700 years. This is too long for the feel I want.

My Alternate Timeline

In my Traveller universe I’m saying it took the 3I longer to expand, roughly an average of 50 years per sub-sector in any direction so as Vincennes in Deneb is c. 16 sub-sectors away from the core say it took c. 800 years to get to the edge of the Spinward Marches.

800: edge of Spinward Marches

850: Mora

900: Trin’s Veil, Rhylanor and Lunion

950: Glisten, Lanth, parts of Regina and Aramis – Jewell seeks 3I protectorate.

1000: Vilis, Regina – Jewell associate

1050: Five Sisters

In progress: building up Aramis, Vilis, Five Sisters, improving route to Five Sisters, Jewell, diplomacy District 268

So Mora has been part of the 3I for c. 250 years, Glisten c. 150, Vilis c. 100 years, Five Sisters c. 50 years – much more frontiery.

Population Sizes

The systems in Spinward could have been colonized by

  • the Ancients: humans, modified humans or others
  • the Vilani
  • Second Imperium
  • Third Imperium

so large populations aren’t surprising. The Marches are the 3I’s frontier but they are not frontier in the sense of being undeveloped.

Also in between the big empires, alpha systems may have risen and fallen creating their own pocket empires for a time so there cab be ruins everywhere.

Frontier Wars

In the official history there have been a number of Frontier wars with the Zhodani mostly revolving around Jewell

  • two in the 600s
  • one in the 900s
  • two more in 1080 and 1107

In my alternative time line the first three are bumped up and the second two stay the same

  • the first three involved escalating skirmishes in the 950s with the Jewell cluster’s own fleet itself being the largest force
  • well planned major Zhodani attack 1080
  • 5th Frontier war incoming

Player Start

any of

1065: second survey

1082-1084: 4th Frontier War

1085 to 1104: a bit less impending war (but potential for salvage, lost ships, spy stuff etc)

1105: standard start, big war incoming

or even way back 800-900 when the Imperium’s border was still in Deneb.



Warning – this whole post is a spoiler.

Official Version

In the 3rd Imperium setting of Traveller there are a species called the Ancients who did stuff and a boss dude called “Grandfather” more or less detailed here:


Anyway in my quest to include every existing sci fi trope in the Spinward Marches…


My Version

Grandfather and the actual Ancients are D&D mind flayers / Cthulhu Starspawn type creatures – the Droyne are a servitor species.

They developed immortality requiring some kind of vampiric process.

Not nice.

They were big on genetic engineering and mass gladiator battles.

They picked up humans and modified them, sometimes just for fun, sometimes for practical reasons so they could work more easily on a particular world with droyne as slave drivers but they also used them for war-sized gladiator type battles e.g. Waterloo or Kursk sized, including Mecha type battles and battles against giant robots – Vland still has a cultural memory of these. The gladiator humans were generally left unmodified to make the battles even.

The Ancients liked to bet on the outcomes of the battles.

Sometimes Ancients would control the battles directly using psionic powers to give orders to the officers on the ground like a computer game with real blood.

Anyway apart from all that the Ancients built all kinds of high tech wonders – artificial planets, ring worlds etc blah blah.

They also built a robotic fleet with an AI which – you guessed it – went rogue and developed a version of the Prime Directive: that it was wrong for a space-faring species to interfere with a non space faring species. After the Ancients refused to obey the Fleet’s order to desist (and as despite all their psionic powers they couldn’t regain control of their robotic forces) the Fleet attacked and destroyed all the Ancient’s industrial worlds, anything capable of building ships and anything that could become capable of building ships.

Only Grandfather and 420 Ancients survived this destruction most of them on research stations on worlds with little other infrastructure.

Fleet moved out into the universe looking for other breakers of its Prime Directive but not before leaving behind TL18 stealth ships containing hunter killer terminator robots to hunt down the last remaining Ancients.

Grandfather escaped into a pocket universe while the others were hunted down – not all were however, many of them found a way to hide. The terminators, stealth ships and Ancients are still there in the OTU hidden.

Consequences in Game

– hidden TL18 stealth ships in system with unaccounted for Ancients, literally hidden just sitting on a moon somewhere powered down for thousands of years waiting for a scent

– Terminators, some on the stealth ships, some on planets. The ones that got their target designed to self-destruct but those who never found their target just power down and wake up every few centuries to sniff. Invisible in stealth armor one could be sitting on the roof of an Ancients site powered down while Imperial archaeologists work below.

Terminator – botched self-destruct, mangled Terminator somewhere

– Surviving Ancients who hid themselves in various ways to evade the Terminators: cybernetic Dalek form, bio-engineered form, stasis, sealed inside an impregnable tomb etc

– Grandfather, if players find his pocket universe he tells them various lies to get them to check out systems where there may be a surviving Ancients and/or tries to get them to find and destroy Terminators for him. Say c.120 of the surviving 420 Ancients were killed by Terminators and he’s rescued c. 100 over the years and he’s still trying to gather in the remaining 200 or so.

– wandering Ancients – possibly transformed to hide scent from terminators

– misfiring Terminators – an Ancient created an item to act as a decoy which gives off Ancient’s scent, players find it


 Vlandian Games

As mentioned Vland retained a cultural memory of their role in the Ancients gladiatorial games particularly the Vilani gladiators having to fight giant robots. This passed down through festivals and semi-religious symbolism but after the development of grav tech spawned an entertainment involving giant Mechs with teams of players inside controlling them. This is now an interstellar sport with a league in many sub-sectors.


Imperial Navy

also see Fleet Composition


Core Assumptions

(1) Alpha systems (class A star port & high pop & high tech) have the capacity to create large fleets of large ships.

(2) Alpha clusters, an alpha system and its hinterland generally represents 95%+ of the wealth of a sub-sector.

(3) Alpha clusters are the core of the 3I and they and the routes between them are what the fleets protect.

(4) Refueling large fleets of large ships is a major pain.



Under Traveller rules large fleets of large ships require huge amounts of fuel.

For example a squadron of 500k dton battleships would use 800k dton of fuel for a single J2 jump and at 500Cr per dton of refined fuel that would be 400 million Cr.

Obviously the navy would have its own refueling depots but it gives an indication of the scale of infrastructure needed to support the huge tonnage of the main battle fleets.

The refueling issue keeps the main battle fleets in their home system in peace time leaving peace time patrolling to smaller ships

  • silk road trade routes to cruisers
  • hinterland cluster patrols to the much smaller colonial cruisers
  • backwater systems to the Scouts and the occasional colonial corvette.

Fuel sources like gas giants are often guarded by an orbital station or SDB.

Systems acting as refueling stops along the long distance “Silk Road” trade routes between alpha clusters have naval orbital stations providing fuel for naval patrols and fighter escorts for merchants.


Sector Fleet

The IN is organized by sector.

There is a sector fleet admiral for day to day operations but imtu the sector Duke is the CinC and technically can take direct command although this is rare.

The sector fleet is divided into colonial fleets and reserve fleets.

Each sub-sector collects a navy tax of which half goes to the sub-sector Duke for the colonial fleet and half goes to the sector Duke for the sector fleet.

Defense is based on the hedgehog principle where each sub-sector’s colonial fleet acts as a strong point defending its own sub-sector (although in reality colonial fleets tend to focus on the sub-sector’s alpha cluster).

The reserve fleets provide the mobile component that maneuvers around the strong points.


Colonial Fleets

There is one named colonial fleet for each sub-sector.

The colonial fleet has a commanding admiral but imtu the sub-sector Duke is CinC and can take direct command although this is rare.

Technically colonial fleets can be ordered out of their sub-sector by sector fleet but rarely are.

The colonial fleet includes fixed defenses like orbital stations and planetary bases, SDBs and trade lane patrols as well as the mobile colonial fleet.

The size and composition of colonial fleets varies greatly.

There is generally at least one alpha system in each sub-sector and these systems will build the colonial fleet unless the TL is low in which case some of the ships will be bought from shipyards elsewhere.

Weak sub-sectors will have a minimal colonial fleet and need direct backup from the 3I.

The colonial fleets are mostly recruited from the sub-sector.


Reserve Fleets

This is the name given to the official IN. The name comes from the colonial fleets providing the forward line of defense with the IN fleets held in reserve ready to be massed against any intruder.

The reserve fleets are numbered.

IN reserve fleets tend to follow set organisational patterns.

Some of the IN fleet types are: battle, assault, interdiction, strike, penetration, depot.

Reserve fleets come under the direct command of the sector fleet not the command of whichever sub-sector they are based in – although they can be assigned to a sub-sector command by sector fleet.

The reserve fleets are largely constructed in and recruited from the core.


System Defenses

Important systems can have substantial non jump capable defenses also – orbital stations, ground installation and SDBs.

Gas giants and other refueling sources are often very well guarded in this way.

Alpha clusters provide these for their own clusters.

The IN maintains the equivalent of a roman road type system with static defenses around the refueling points along the long distance trade routes between clusters.



Realistic Star Faring

applied to the Traveller setting.


I forget the exact numbers but IIRC earth has been around c. 5 billion years or so and sentients only about a million years, agriculture only ten thousand years and potentially pre-stellar for only a hundred.

So even with an assumption of one potentially earth like planet/moon per system then if they all formed at different times I think it comes to around one in five thousand systems where the planet has been around long enough for life to have started and long enough for life to reach cavemen.


If the average Traveller sub-sector has say c. 30 systems then a full sector on average has c. 500 systems so that would mean one system had reached an alien version of neanderthals per 10 full sectors.

Sentient aliens with agriculture would be around one per 1000 sectors and pre-stellar aliens one per 100,000 sectors.

The entire Imperium is like 20 sectors.


Those sums are probably very inaccurate but they illustrate the idea that the first species to interstellar is going to find sector after sector of planets that are only partway to being livable and of those that are livable most will only be partway to producing a sentient species.


So if humans were first then I think the logic of it is the first star settlers would expand out exploring in all directions and as the people who do the colonizing will be the sort of people who want to do it then if they produce similar kids the process becomes self perpetuating.

In the Traveller setting most of this early colonizing wouldn’t actually be colonies to live on; it would be building stepping stones for refueling for the next jump but it would be necessary to get tothe next step and the people doing it don’t stop because at the beginning of the process people were selected who were the sort of people who couldn’t stop.

Eventually they’d arrive somewhere that had a real world and pre-sentient alien monkeys. Generally I think taking the top niche in the food chain would prevent any native pre-sentient evolving naturally so that species would be blocked unless quarantined but maybe the humans would uplift them just for the novelty. They’d uplift planets for sure or at least start the process.

So they’d spread everywhere, living in domes a lot of the time while speeding up planetary evolution. In most places their presence stops a native sentient developing but  maybe they uplift some themselves gradually adding Wookies and Ewoks to their ship’s crews along the way and just keep spreading because they can’t stop.


So one option – humans are first and spread like a wave in all directions until after 50,000 sectors or so of colonizing mostly rocks and the occasional monkey world they eventually bump into another star faring sentient species.

Which is a bit like the Ancients in the Traveller setting.


Alternative Ship Design I

May be useful for creating quick ship designs.


Ship Attribute Ranks


life support




All the attributes default to rank-0.

Standard attributes at rank-0 mean those attibutes exist at a basic level proportional to the size of the ship.

Exotic attributes and jump at rank-0 mean those attibutes don’t exist.

Maneuver-0 means the ship has the default maneuver drive
Jump-0 means there is no jump drive

Crew-0 means there is the default crew
Fighters-0 means there are no fighters on the ship

Main Rule

each 100 dtons of ship gets one rank to spend

Drive Tables (WIP)

engine ranks provide different max Jn and different max G for different ship sizes at different tech levels

max jump number produced from specified drive rank and ship size

max G uses the same table with the columns shifted one to the left so
maneuver-0 counts as rank-1, maneuver-1 as rank-2 etc

TL10 rank-1 rank-2 rank-3
100 2 – –
200 1 2 –
400 – 1 2
800 – – 1

TL11 rank-1 rank-2 rank-3
100 3 – –
200 2 3 –
400 1 2 3
800 – 1 2

TL12 rank-1 rank-2 rank-3
100 4 – –
200 3 4 –
400 2 3 4
800 1 2 3
1600 – 1 2

TL13 rank-1 rank-2 rank-3
100 4 – –
200 4 4 –
400 3 4 4
800 2 3 4
1600 1 2 3
3200 – 1 2

TL14 rank-1 rank-2 rank-3
100 4 – –
200 4 4 –
400 4 4 4
800 3 4 4
1600 2 3 4
3200 1 2 3
6400 – 1 2

TL15 rank-1 rank-2 rank-3
100 4 – –
200 4 4 –
400 4 4 4
800 4 4 4
1600 3 4 4
3200 2 3 4
6400 1 2 3
12800 – 1 2
25600 – – 1

(the standard ship sizes IMTU are powers of 2 cos reasons but the table would be the same for the standard 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000 dtons easily enough)

Design Rules

so with some rules like:
– either use drive tables for exact Jn and G
– or use hand wavy jump and maneuver ranks
—rank-1 = low Jn/G
—rank-2 = medium Jn/G
—rank-3 = high Jn/G
– passenger-1 requires medical-1
– one crew rank at 400dt, 1600dt, 6400dt etc
—on naval ships a rank of marines can count as a rank of crew and
represents ship’s troops/crew rather than ground troops

then the book 2 ships might be specified something like

100dt Type S: jump-1
200dt Free Trader: jump-1, cargo-1
400dt Type R: jump-1, crew-1, cargo-2
600dt Type M: jump-2, crew-1, cargo-1, passengers-1, medical-1
200dt Yacht: jump-1, luxury-1
800dt Broadsword: jump-2, manouver-2, crew-1, weapons-1, boats-1, troops-1

200dt Safari Ship: jump-1, cargo-1(animal containment)
200dt Scout Survey Ship: jump-1, sensors-1
400dt Scout Mother Ship: jump-1, crew-1, medical-1, workshop-1


the actual Jn and G associated with the jump and maneuver ranks can either
be hand wavy as above or matched to the books by specifying the TL of the
ship as well so for example a Book 2 400dt Patrol Cruiser has J3 and 3G in
the book which in the hand wavy way above might be specified as

400dt Patrol Cruiser: jump-2, manouver-2, marines-1, weapons-1

(for a total of 6 ranks instead of the 4 allowed technically breaking these ship design rules)

however using the drive tables and specifying the TL it could be:

TL10 400dt Patrol Cruiser: manouver-2, marines-1, weapons-1
(no jump, 2G)

TL11 400dt Patrol Cruiser: jump-1, manouver-1, marines-1, weapons-1
(J1, 2G)

TL12 400dt Patrol Cruiser: jump-1, manouver-1, marines-1, weapons-1
(J2, 3G)

TL13 400dt Patrol Cruiser: jump-1, marines-1, armor-1, weapons-1
(J3, 3G)
(as the default maneuver-0 improves with TL and now provides 3G)

Similarly with the Broadsword and Type M.

More Examples

some more examples using the drive table

TL13 1600dt Patroller: jump-3, maneuver-2, crew-1, marines-1, medical-1,
sensors-1, armor-2, weapons-4
(J3, 3G)

TL13 1600dt Freighter: jump-3, crew-2, boats-1, cargo-10
(J3, 1G)



mashup of CT and HG for < 5k dtons

  • 0.1mcr/ton
  • min 20
  • 2% min 20
  • 0.5mcr per 100 tons of ship
  • percentages
  • j-drive 5% mass, min 5
  • TL10 J1, TL11 J2, TL12 J3, TL13 J4, TL14 J5, TL15 J6
  • m-drive 5% mass
  • TL9 1G, TL10 2G etc
  • power 5% mass
  • fuel 0.1MJn + 10Pn
  • 1mcr per 100
  • fuel scoops


fuel purification
  • 1 dt purifies 1 dt per hour
  • 1 dt holding tank per dt of purifier
  • water -> unrefined = 2dt per dt per hour
  • water->unrefined->refined = 3dt per dt per hour
hard points
  • 1 hp per 100dt 100k
  • add turrets and weapons
  • turrets 1dt FC
  • 160 dt bay – 16 hp
  • 40 dt bay – 4 hp
  • sr 4 tons 500k
  • lb 1/2t 50k
  • life pods 100k 1t
  • TL 7+ 4+4a
  • TL10+ 3+3a
  • TL12+ 2+2a
  • TL14 !+1a
  • planetoid +3/+6
  • max a = TL

small craft
– < 100 no fittings on ships below 1000 or dist config
– 130% mass on bigger ships
– big craft > 100 require 110%
– launch tubes 40 per turn