Transmissions From The End #011: Sneak Peak – Putting It All Together

Here’s another excerpt from the Systems Malfunction manuscript, as progress continues slowly and steadily. We really ought to get art briefs written up and out before the end of the month, which means we should be able to preview some art after Origins (which is suddenly very soon!).

As any of you following the Kickstarter closely probably noted, we didn’t make one of the Stretch Goals I was most excited about, which would have allowed us to include capital-scale starship combat rules and actual deck-plans for common capital ships in the Systems Malfunction universe. This is a major bummer, but one bright side is that with how far behind we are on a couple of projects, it would have been a nightmare trying to get those deck plans done in time. I still look forward to publishing a book of SysMal vessels, complete with deck plans, in the future.

In the meantime, here’s the chapter on scaling personal and vehicle combat from the Systems Malfunction manuscript. For those backers/fans/players who don’t have the Singularity Core Rules (and the extensive Strategic Starship Combat rules therein), I tried to provide some guidance on how to incorporate big honking starships into your campaign without having their full stats. The formatting of the table is incredibly janky, but obviously, won’t be in the final product, because it’s not being published through WordPress 😛

Astute readers will note that some of the suggestions for running combats involving both infantry and vehicles have changed from those provided in Singularity Core, in attitude as much as in content.

Bringing It All Together

If personal combatants and vehicles are involved in one fight, the shit has hit the fan and (meta)human beings are going to die historic—and become red mist. Some of those metahumans might be PCs.

If you have a battle mat and miniatures, bust ‘em out. Crude sketches are fine, but if you like some production values on your table, that’s cool too. It is very hard to do a vehicles-on-drones-on-infantry-on-Jackhammers fracas using only “theater of the mind” because vehicles can move much faster than infantry and in more directions. You use a vehicle’s Tactical Speed as its move speed in meters per turn. You ignore the ‘change range maneuver’, and resolving other Tactical Maneuvers (see p. XX) as Minor Actions (see p. XX), with Tactical Actions as Major Actions (see p. XX). This enables vehicles to use a Minor Action to take evasive maneuvers.

Instead of 10 seconds like turns with only personal combat, a turn of “mixed” combat is assumed to last the same duration as a turn of Tactical Vehicular Combat: a number of seconds equal to the highest initiative rolled (again: do not think about this too much!). ReAct (see p. XX) applies the same to metahuman and vehicular combatants, allowing extra partial actions after the “all-skate” phase.

Personal weapon damage and personal armor rating are designed to scale directly into those of tactical combat. If a personal weapon looks like it would not even scratch most vehicles, that’s cause it wouldn’t. If on the other hand, a vehicular weapon looks like it would unfailingly vaporize even the toughest, most heavily armored Replicant (and everyone standing next to him) it totally fucking would.

People trying to fight Jackhammers and drone-tanks and attack helicopters isn’t fair. The only chance of it being a fight at all lies with the odd chance that the people involved remembered to bring heavy anti-vehicular weapons.

There is a silver lining to having brought your frail metahuman body to a Jackhammer fight. Humans are very small targets; sensor assisted targeting can’t be used against them and they get to roll Evasion against all vehicular attacks: although ‘blast’ weapons will probably kill them even if they miss. Missiles cannot attack individual humans at all, nor can other weapons you can’t picture being fired at a man with a gun. For a human attacking a vehicle, the base difficulty stage is Easy. That is the last and only advantage humans get, however.

Capital Ships

Unfortunately, due to budgetary and page count constraints, the full rules for capital-ship combat (“Strategic Starship Combat”) can’t be reprinted in this book, which is a real shame. The rules appear in full on pp. 75-115 of the first (2013) printing of the Singularity System Core Rulebook, if you have access to that text. The silver lining to not being able to reprint those rules here is that they were as discovered in play less than perfect, and are definitely less than perfect for Systems Malfunction.

Generally speaking, it is probably best to treat capital ships as “set pieces” in any given Systems Malfunction campaign. Describe a larger space battle if one is happening, but keep the focus on the PCs and their actions (resolved through the rules for vehicular and personal combat). In other words, a Ferrata-Class Heavy Destroyer or a Narcissus-Class Planet Cracker is a location that exciting things are happening on, such as boarding action and defense, or a tense game of cat and mouse with an unknown alien lifeform. When in the course of space combat, a Destroyer that the PCs are assault boarding (or fighting off boarders from) becomes treated by the game more as something that things are happening to, rather than someplace that things are happening on, the likely “realistic” outcome is that a lot of PCs are going to die, very abruptly and without any chance (any roll to make) to survive.

In other words, if the Ferrata destroyer the PCs are waging an epic sword/gunfight on has its hull ruptured by ASGMs and railguns and explodes, the PCs and their enemies are all, most likely, immediately and anticlimactically dead.

On the other hand, it’s likely that at some point in a good, action-packed science fiction campaign-scape like Systems Malfunction, one or more PCs are going to be in powered armor, Jackhammers, or Starfighters, attempting an assault/boarding on a much larger ship. It’s the kind of iconic scene that good military sci-fi is chock full of. When someone’s closing in for boarding action, characters will unfailingly come under fire from (or be firing themselves) point-defense weapon systems. The least I can do is offer the stats for some common point-defense weapons, and the damage they do to vehicles and unlucky individuals alike (all have Piercing 10).

Starship Turret Weapon Accuracy Damage Starship Turret

Point Defense Weapon

Accuracy Damage
37mm Gatling Autocannon 0 24 Flak Gun -1 10×4
Quad Pulse Laser +1 4×10 20mm CIWS 0 15
Grenade Machinegun -1 32 Point Defense Pulse Laser +1 4×4
Gauss Cannon +1 28 Point Defense Beam +4 10

Note that each turret a capital ship mounts can have up to two turret weapons, up to four point defense weapons, or up to one turret weapon and two point defense weapons (when firing a twinned weapon system, i.e. two or more weapons of the same kind on the same turret, the point defense operator receives +1 to his Gunnery roll). While a small torpedo or missile boat or a Prospector-Class scout or Traveler-Class Light Transport mount only one turret each, a mid-sized capital ship like a Ferrata mounts three turrets (each with two 20mm CIWS), a Great Dragon-class Red Army flagship mounts 12 turrets, and a Vitrix-Class Supercarrier boasts 18 turrets. Only attempt a boarding or bombing run on a serious capital ship if you’re part of a massive wave of smaller craft, or if you’re feeling particularly suicidal.

Note that ground and naval bases often have mounted turrets with similar weaponry, although in that context it’s properly referred to as “anti-air” rather than “point defense”.

Closing & Boarding

It takes at least a full combat turn to close to boarding or vehicle weapons range with a capital ship: how long it takes is ultimately up to the GM, based on how far your point of launch is from the target ship, but one turn is the minimum. A Hard Helmsman, Jackhammer Rig, or Pilot (2) Test is required to bring the vehicle within boarding distance of the target starship. During this time, point defense fire must be weathered.

Jackhammers and characters in Powered Armor get to make Evasion rolls against each instance of incoming point defense fire as normal (and at a cumulative penalty of -1 for every Evasion roll made that turn, as normal). Other vehicles such as fighters and drones, however, do not make Evasion rolls. If the Gunnery roll produces a number of hits equal to the vehicle’s Handling (minimum 1), the point defense attack hits.

Jackhammers and dropships (including the Fulminata) can breach and board enemy ships after closing. Breaching and boarding is a dangerous, time-consuming process, because of the risk of fatally depressurizing both vessels. The process of penetrating a hostile hull to deploy a boarding party takes one full turn. It requires a successful opposed test versus the target ship’s Repairs subsystem rating (range of 2 to 6 depending on the size and sophistication of the enemy vessel). The boarding party either rolls Demolitions (for a combat hardbreach), an Electronics test (to rewire an airlock), or a Computers test (in the case of a software override). If the test fails, the boarding party can try again, but not by the same means, and again combat boarding takes one full turn to attempt.

dat room

SPOILER ALERT: I really like the musical Hamilton.

So what’s up guys? I’m going to write down my method for designing a game, and you get to be (figuratively speaking) in the room where it happens.

The room where it happens.

The room where it happens.



No, not THAT Room, for the love of God!

SPOILER ALERT: I might actually be said to have a Hamilton “Problem”.

My method is just my method. My method is not the best method. My method is not the only method. My method was arrived at by designing games, which means my method is informed by the 10+ roleplaying games* I have already designed.

(There is exactly one inaccurate word in the sentence “Devon Oratz has been actively engaged in game design for his entire  adult life”. That word would be “adult”.)


“Coming” “Soooooooooooon”

The development of the first official game setting for the Singularity System, Setting Module 00: Systems Malfunction (based on my long-running LARP of the same name) has been pretty much a goddamn nightmare. A nightmare of the endlessly recurring kind. The reason for this is no mystery: this is the first time that End Transmission has sought to publish a work of which I was not the sole primary author, and I am far better at producing my own content than I am at managing the content ouput of others. The fact of the delays was no surprise either, but the scale of them is staggering.

Some history: in January of last year, I began developing the Sol Invictus setting for the Singularity System. I realized that I could not possibly develop BOTH the Sol Invictus setting and the Systems Malfunction setting for tabletop and meet a reasonable production schedule (i.e. a GenCon ’13 release), so I decided that I would outsource the development of the Systems Malfunction setting book to an independent contractor familiar with the universe and subject matter. It soon became clear that no matter what, the Sol Invictus setting would take years for me to bring to fruition (which should have clued me in to something), but the choice to put the Systems setting book in someone else’s hands had been made, and there was nothing to be done about it. (As of now, only 110 .doc pages and 36,000 words of Sol Invictus exist, meaning that the first draft is nowhere near complete.)

The project was assigned by February of 2013, but we did not issue a contract until May of that year due to general inexperience at business, and more importantly, we were working our butts off making games.

Our plan was for a GenCon 2013 release of the Systems setting book, following hot on the heels of the Singularity System which we managed to release at Origins 2013 to modest sales (we’d initially been planning on releasing THAT at Lunacon to substantially modester sales, but that’s another story and a far less outrageous one). Contracted deadlines were missed again and again throughout July, and things became increasingly quite tense. By the time we got anything resembling a completed manuscript, it was mid-September, two months behind schedule, and GenCon had come and gone. At that point we were dealing with the stress of moving, and neither of us was looking forward to rush-processing the draft for a Con on the Cob October release. We wound up calling in sick from Con on the Cob entirely last year.

It’s a good thing we didn’t try to go to print with that manuscript, because it wasn’t actually complete at all. It took me entirely too long to realize this, as I spent three months going and carefully editing (for content and format) the rules section, before I could take a month to carefully review the setting chapter (editing again for content and format) and realize that some of it in fact was missing. At this point, it was January of this year. I had gotten over the extreme rage at all the missed deadlines between July and September, and was feeling a bit live-and-let-live. So never one to realize that a fire tends to burn rather consistently so you shouldn’t thrust your hand in it twice, I reached out to the original author. Could he deliver all of the missing and incomplete content by February 8th, so that we could get the book to print for a March Lunacon release? Of course he could, he assured me, no problem.

As of this writing it is February 25th and I still do not have a complete manuscript for layout: it is completely impractical, if not impossible, to publish this book for a Lunacon release, since Lunacon is in less than three weeks and the layout-to-publishing-to-shipping process involves several proofing stages and is rather time consuming. The complete draft is, as of this writing, 225 days late, also equivalent to seven months and 10 days, also equivalent to 32 weeks and one day. Oh well, there is always Origins. Maybe we will have a book by then. Anything is possible. This cannot all be blamed on the contractor. The truth is that the sheer scale and enormity of the project, the book, and the content it contains has expanded and expanded with seemingly every other revision and addition that we’ve done recently. Even culling everything not absolutely necessary, which I have been doing for months now, this project has lost weeks and weeks to the phenomenon software developers identify as scope creep.

In all seriousness, I can’t say that I have only myself to blame for this. But I also can’t say I don’t blame myself.

And all of this is…OK. I’ll repeat that, all of this is OK, just growing pains (even if some are more painful than others), mistakes we can afford to make, and learn from, and not make again, like the shipping thing last year. The truth is, we are (fortunately) on steady enough financial footing that this doesn’t knock us out of business as a company, and (fortunately or unfortunately) at this point we’re still very much under the radar. This is a book almost no one has heard of being talked about in a blog post that almost no one is reading. There are no legions of fans crashing our gates with rage that this book is seven months late (something that, I understand, happens even to the biggest in the business) and I am, perversely enough, almost grateful for that at this stage. It is bad enough dealing with my own frustrated expectations.

One lives, and one learns, and one continues to make games.