Combat Test: Sun Dog vs. Lapwing Salvage Vessel (Fourth Space Combat)

In this space combat test I’m going to continue to teach myself the basic space combat rules from GURPS Spaceships by putting my player ship into combat with another ship very much like itself.

I screwed up this combat. I’ve decided to post the screwed-up version with edits rather than correcting it because that’s just life with learning this stuff. (I thought that surely a critical success on a missile to-hit roll would allow the missile to avoid point defense. It turns out that’s not true.) I’ll mark my error below.

My confusion was that from vanilla GURPS combat I’m used to critical hits always doing something pretty important on an attack roll: “In all cases, the target gets no active defense against the attack.” says p. B556. But in spaceship combat under “Successful Attacks” in the “Ballistic Attack Roll” section on p. SS60 it says, “Critical success means the target cannot dodge.” I don’t see other effects. Earlier in the “Beam” section it said “as usual, critical success means the target cannot dodge.” I got confused by this because “active defense” and “dodge” are different phrases — but of course spacecraft can’t block or parry so I’m not sure now why I found this so confusing. I thought: Why is the effect of a critical hit limited to preventing a dodge? I must be missing something.

I guess I thought that when attacking with a missile, the defense to beat is really the point defense, not the dodge. In general, when attacking with a missile if I rolled a critical hit with my missile attack and the critical prevents dodge, who cares? So I thought: the critical hit has to DO SOMETHING so it must prevent point defense. But it does not — thanks to the GURPS forum I figured this out.

Okay my goal here would be to see what combat between two lightly armed freight ships would look like. The player ship had some clear advantages so this was not exactly even, but in the end the first missile to hit killed the player ship, so it didn’t matter at all that (e.g.,) the player ship had double-strength force screens.

For this combat only I added an offensive X-Ray Laser Turret to the player ship. Not sure why I did that. I think I wanted to compare beams vs. missiles as an offensive weapon?

Takeaways

This fairly-well-matched combat was over in just 3 turns (60 seconds) when one missile slipped past point defense. I think I’m going to really have to figure out how to tweak the combat rules because I can’t see role playing a situation where everything is potentially a one-shot kill when ships of any size are trading missiles. The ships are just too fragile. In this combat I’ve applied the “damage reduction switch” to missiles from GURPS Spaceships 3. Spacecraft have “Damage Reduction 2” advantage from GURPS Powers vs. missile attacks. I chose this because the “Greater Survivability” section suggests “one or both” design switch so I thought I would try one first. However, it didn’t help nearly enough. The player ship still took 800+ dDamage from one missile hit (against a player ship dHP of 150). Lesson learned.

Another lesson is that these armor divisors are tough on ships, man. ONE BEAM WEAPON can take down a light shield in one shot at this tech level. I like force fields because it gives the players more to do in combat. (Even if they know nothing of the space combat rules, they can dramatically shout to “raise the shields!” because they have watched too much Star Trek.) But if one shot takes out the shield it isn’t much of a shield in my view.

The highlight of this combat for me is that again it shows that the basic space combat system produces some really exciting effects if you are in a ship that is taking hits, losing, or being destroyed. Here I rolled up a volatile system explosion and I can just imagine the desperate damage control crews struggle to stop the overloaded reactor. (Then, boom, they didn’t.)

Overall I like the GURPS Spaceships book a lot and I don’t mean this to sound like I’m being a jerk, but I think the issue for me is that I can’t think of a space-faring campaign where I want the PCs to be inside spaceships that lose space combats all the time, so I’m not sure when I will get to use these rules that help me kill the PCs in interesting ways. If you can think of a fun sci-fi campaign concept that involves players always running around inside ships as they are being destroyed by other ships, let me know in the comments. For me, nothing springs to mind.

Some other interesting stuff happened, I thought. I got to see how a “disabled” armor section worked. 9 passengers were killed.

Combat Test

Test combat Sun Dog UPGRADED with X-Ray Laser Turret vs. Lapwing Long-Range Salvage Vessel

Standard Combat Scale, 20-second turns       

Vessels begin in Neutral situation, at long range

Rules modification: Using the missiles damage reduction switch from GURPS Spaceships 3.

Both vessels are in open space (e.g., at a jump point) and begin with no velocity, with the middle hull sections exposed to each other.  They detect each at long range and turn hostile after communicating.

Turn #1

Ships have same speed and same SM, so roll die to determine who moves first. Die roll: Lapwing.

Lapwing

  • Captain rolls vs. offensive tactics (Navigation(Space)-12) to predict enemy, succeeds. Sun Dog has -1 dodge this turn.
  • Captain multi-tasks (-4 penalty) to motivate gunner. Fails.
  • Engineer allocates power, all systems powered.
  • Engineer considers emergency thrust, but sees that even with emergency thrust the Lapwing cannot achieve an acceleration bonus as it is just too slow.
  • Navigator attempts tactical navigation using lower of Electronics Operation(Sensors) and Navigation(Space) for Electronics Operation(Sensors)-11. Fails by 1 (no effect).
  • Sensor Operator begins engineering analysis, turn 1/3.
  • Pilot accelerates at +2G. No acceleration bonus.
  • Pilot wants to take Evasive Action, but cannot accelerate fast enough to get an acceleration bonus with the engines on his ship, so Evasive Action is prohibited.
  • Pilot opts to Hold Course, with front hull facing enemy.
  • Gunner 1 chooses to Wait(Point Defense) with the ship’s laser cannon.
  • Gunner 2 chooses Aim and Attack with the ship’s missile launcher, firing a conventional missile at the Sun Dog’s middle.
    • Roll to hit: Using Artillery(Guided Missile)-12 SM+10, sAcc+3, Relative Velocity -6 (10mps), for a total modifier of +7. Success by 4.
    • Sun Dog’s gunner rolls to fire point defense (UV Laser). RoF is 200 (VRF + improved). Skill is Gunner(Beams)-14, modified by multitasking (-2), target size (0), range (0), sAcc (0), power (0), rapid fire (+8). Succeeds. Missile destroyed.

Sun Dog

  • Captain has no tactics/leadership skills.
  • Engineer allocates power. Rolls vs. Electrician to gain an extra power point. Succeeds. Shields receive extra power point.
  • Pilot accelerates at +100G, Acceleration bonus of +2.
  • Navigator attempts tactical navigation using lower of Electronics Operation(Sensors) and Navigation(Space) for Electronics Operation(Sensors)-11. Fails by 1 (no effect).
  • Pilot elects to Close. Quick contest of Piloting skill with Sun Dog pilot at +2 (acceleration bonus), and enemy pilot at -2 (handling modifier for his ship). Sun Dog succeeds by 10, enemy succeeds by 3. Sun Dog wins. Pilot chooses Advantaged, outmaneuvering the enemy. The engagement between the two ships changes from Long range to Short range. Pilot uses “advantaged” status to choose to face the enemy’s middle hull section instead of the front. Sun Dog’s front section faces the enemy.
  • Gunner 1 fires the ship’s X-Ray laser.
    • Roll to hit: Gunnery(Beams)-12 is modified by SM+10, sAcc (0), power +1GJ (+1), space range: short (-8), visibility (0), for a total modified skill of 15. Success by 2.
    • No point defense possible against beams.
    • Roll for dodge: Piloting-12 /2, + Handling (-2) = 4. Failed by 4.
    • Roll for damage: 4dx5(5) burn sur = 85.
    • Location: Attack hits center hull section, subsection #1: Armor.
    • Attack hits force screen, which is not hardened. Armor divisor is 5. 150/5 = 30. 30 dDR – 85 = 55 damage penetrates force screen.
    • Attack hits armor, which is not hardened. Armor divisor is 5. 30/5 = 6. 6 dDR – 55 damage = 49 damage penetrates armor.
    • Is the penetrating damage at least 10% (15) but less than 50% (75) of the ship’s dHP? Yes. Armor in the Lapwing middle hull section is DISABLED.
    • DISABLED armor means that the Sun Dog can target a weak point in the armor in future turns and ignore the armor.
    • Lapwing dHP is reduced from 150 – 49 = 101.
  • Gunner 2 fires the ship’s missile launcher.
    • Roll to hit: Artillery(Guided Missile)-12 is modified by SM+10, sAcc(+3), relative velocity 10mps (-6) for a total modifier of +7. Critical failure. Missile fires, misses, and missile launcher feed jams and cannot reload for 1 turn.

Turn #2

Lapwing

  • Captain rolls vs. offensive tactics (Navigation(Space)-12) to predict enemy, fails.
  • Navigator attempts tactical navigation using lower of Electronics Operation(Sensors) and Navigation(Space) for Electronics Operation(Sensors)-11. Fails by 2 (no effect).
  • Sensor Operator continues engineering analysis, turn 2/3.
  • Pilot accelerates at +2 G for a total of +4G. No acceleration bonus.
  • Pilot opts to Retreat, with rear hull facing enemy.
  • Gunner 1 chooses to Wait(Point Defense) with the ship’s laser cannon.
  • Gunner 2 chooses Aim and Attack with the ship’s missile launcher, firing a conventional missile at the Sun Dog’s middle.
    • Roll to hit: Using Artillery(Guided Missile)-12 SM+10, sAcc+3, Relative Velocity -6 (10mps), for a total modifier of +7. Success by 7.
    • Sun Dog’s gunner rolls to fire point defense (UV Laser). RoF is 200 (VRF + improved). Skill is Gunner(Beams)-14, modified by multitasking (-2), target size (0), range (0), sAcc (0), power (0), rapid fire (+8), for a total modifier of +5. Succeeds. Missile destroyed.

Sun Dog

  • Captain motivates Laser Gunner. Succeeds. Gunner at +1 this turn.
  • Navigator attempts tactical navigation, succeeds. Pilot at +1 this turn.
  • Pilot accelerates at +100G, Acceleration bonus of +2.
  • Pilot elects closing maneuver. Quick contest required to close with a retreating foe. Sun Dog Piloting at 18 +1 for tactical navigation, +2 for acceleration bonus. Lapwing at 12, -2 for Handling. Sun Dog succeeds by 9, Lapwing succeeds by 3. Sun Dog wins, and is “advantaged” against Lapwing. Pilot chooses to approach Lapwing’s middle section. Due to acceleration, Sun Dog’s front section faces Lapwing.
  • Gunner 1 Fires the ship’s X-Ray Laser.
    • Roll to hit: Gunnery(Beams)-12 is modified by SM+10, sAcc (0), power +1GJ (+1), space range: short (-8), visibility (0), and motivation (+1) for a total modified skill of 16. Succeeds by 6.
    • No point defense possible against beams.
    • Roll for dodge: Piloting-12 /2, + Handling (-2) = 4. Failed by 3.
    • Roll for damage: 4dx5(5) burn sur = 75. Location: Attack hits center hull section, subsection #3: Habitat.
    • Attack hits force screen, which is not hardened. Force Screen has regenerated since last turn. Armor divisor is 5. 150/5 = 30. 30 dDR – 75 = 45 damage penetrates force screen.
    • Attack hits armor, which is not hardened. Armor divisor is 5. 30/5 = 6. 6 dDR – 45 damage = 39 damage penetrates armor.
    • Is the penetrating damage at least 10% (10) but less than 50% (50) of the ship’s dHP? Yes. Armor in the Lapwing middle hull section is DISABLED.
    • 9 Lapwing passengers are seriously injured.
    • Lapwing Life support is inoperative.
    • Lapwing dHP is reduced from 101 – 49 = 52.
  • Gunner 2 clears jam from the ship’s missile launcher

Turn #3

Lapwing

  • Captain motivates pilot, fails. Pilot at -1
  • Navigator attempts tactical navigation using lower of Electronics Operation(Sensors) and Navigation(Space) for Electronics Operation(Sensors)-11. Fails by 2 (no effect).
  • Sensor Operator completes engineering analysis, turn 3/3.  Extra time brings modifier on Engineer(Starships)-12 down to -3 for an effective skill of 9.  Succeeds by 1.
    • Basic system type of Sun Dog front sections [1]-[6] revealed.
  • Pilot accelerates at +2 G for a total of +6G. No acceleration bonus.
  • Pilot opts to Retreat, with rear hull facing enemy.
  • Gunner 1 chooses to Wait(Point Defense) with the ship’s laser cannon.
  • Gunner 2 chooses Aim and Attack with the ship’s missile launcher, firing a conventional missile at the Sun Dog’s middle.
    • Roll to hit: Using Artillery(Guided Missile)-12 SM+10, sAcc+3, Relative Velocity -6 (10mps), for a total modifier of +7. Critical success. The enemy pilot cannot dodge.
    • Does point defense count? Rules not clear.  Let’s say point defense is not allowed. [Edit: This was the wrong call. Critical hits have no effect on point defense. To keep this combat correct we’ll have to revise it to say that there was a point defense roll and it failed. -Ed.] Missile hits.
    • Roll for damage: conventional warhead 6dx7(2) cr = 189 x velocity 10mps = 1890.
    • Attack hits force screen, which is not hardened. dDR = 150 / 2 = 75. 1890 – 75 = 1815 dDam penetrated the force screen.
    • Daimondoid armor is hardened, negating armor divisor.
    • dDR = 100, 1815 – 100 = 1715 dDam penetrates armor.
    • Damage Reduction switch (SS3) divides damage by 2 = 856
    • Location roll for center section: 5: Power plant.
    • Is the penetrating damage over 50% (75) of the ship’s dHP? Yes. The system [Power Plant] is destroyed. In addition, the next system (6) is disabled: Weapon Battery.
    • Sun Dog dHP is reduced from 150 – 856 = -706.  The ship passes -4 x dHP and must roll for destruction.  Succeeds = the ship is not destroyed.
    • Power Plant is a volatile system: Roll to prevent explosion. System was destroyed, so rolling at ship HT-5 = 8. Failed by 1. System will explode in 20 seconds (end of next turn.)
    • Missile batteries are volatile systems. Roll to prevent explosion. System was disabled, so roll at HT = 13. Succeeded by 6.
    • Sun Dog surrenders as she has no power or weapons.

Postscript:

  • Next turn, the bridge officer tries a coordinate damage control task: rolling Electronics Operation(Comms)-12 and succeeding for a +1.  The captain tries to motivate the damage control crewman with the relevant reactor repair skill: Shiphandling-12, -2 because of being in different systems. Failed by 3 producing a -1 distraction. The engineering crew in the engine room form a damage control party (size = 3, size modifier 0). They attempt to avert the destruction of the fusion reactor by rolling against Mechanic(Fusion Reactor)-11. They are at -4 because they are not in the same system as the reactor, they are in the engine room. They are at -1 for distraction, +1 for coordinated damage control for an effective skill of 7. Failed by 1. The reactor explodes, destroying the ship. Dramatic!
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