Thursday, 2 December 2021

Towards an Aquatic-Aerial Combat System

My usual MO when running combat in D&D is to draw rough sketches to show where the combatants are in relation to one another. Some people use minis. Both of these methods can be easily replicated if running a game online.

Problems arise, however, the instant things get properly three-dimensional. The thing about fighting on land is that everybody is on the same (horizontal) plane. Underwater, or in the air, people can come at each other from above or underneath; indeed, manoeuvring to try to take advantage of altitude (or depth) would be a significant element of combat in such environments, and a large part of what would make it interesting.

The issue is that keeping track of objects in a three-dimensional space is really hard, and not something human beings, used to walking around on horizontal surfaces, readily intuit. This is probably why even in SF films and TV series set in space, we tend to find vessels interacting with one another on the same plane, as though they are resting on top of some sort of invisible intergalactic field rather than objects in an infinite void able to approach one another from any angle. Hence:



Trying to run combat underwater or in the air (or in space, for that matter) and doing a plausible job of it therefore would, I think, involve abandoning diagrams and instead reconceptualising combat as a true 'melee', with a totally fluid mass of combatants. The basic idea would be:

  • Within the melee itself, anybody can attack anybody else each round; there is no need to keep track of position
  • A more manoeuvrable combatant can elect to attack a less manoeuvrable one from above or below, gaining a bonus
  • A combatant can attack an equally manoeuvrable combatant from above or below through a contested roll, or by leaving itself open to some kind of flanking or opportunity attack
  • Slower or less manoeuvrable combatants get fewer attacks
Thoughts? 

14 comments:

  1. I've seen wargames using miniatures where altitude is shown by stacks of solid things underneath the miniature base, thus actually proportionately raising the height of the miniature. These height-raisers are usually custom-made for the wargame. If improvising, I am not sure what would be suitable. There is also the problem of not being able to represent one combatant directly above another combatant (as the miniatures do not lend themselves to having things stacked on top of them).

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    1. Yeah, that's the issue. You also can't have them coming in e.g. upside down and so on.

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  2. Perhaps you could use isometric graph paper to get a rough idea of position? It could work well with a range-band system, where everything was positioned with regard to a central ship/figure reference point. No need for strict movement distance. This way you could keep track of positional advantage based on general 'buckets' (above, behind, right flank) as you suggest. Then just give advantage to fast/maneuverable units (move 2 bands vs 1).

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    1. I did think about that, although isometic graph paper isn't easy to come by.

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    2. Here is to making it a little easier!

      https://www.printablepaper.net/category/isometric_graph

      https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/1090636903/

      I have really liked the notebook for practicing and getting my brain in isometric mode. If you are looking for a one off or actually have a printer at home and don't need as many pages there is some POD there.

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  3. Maybe you could use isometric graph paper to set up positional 'buckets' (above, behind, right flank) around a central reference unit. You could use range bands rather than specific movement distance, giving advantage to fast/maneuverable units (move 2 positions vs 1). It shouldn't be much more onerous than your current method but help players visualize relative position.

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  4. you may be able to keep it on the 2d plane for sketching hsing this by just focusing on proximity (assuming that pressure bands arent important). my homebrew dogfighter game uses Fuel to let you climb up a level and you gain speed and small damage bonus when you dive, plus a malus when you attempt to fire at something above you; replacing height with speed feels like an elegant solution for this, especially when dealing with water.

    of course, if you are comfortable with the system for aquatic or aerial adventures, the question is whether it cant also be used terrestrially.

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    1. I suppose the question is why you would need to use it terrestrially - although it is funny that most RPG systems don't have a rule for doing more damage/hitting more easily when elevated above an opponent.

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  5. Depends on how tactical you want things to get. For an example of how this would work tactically the best example I've seen is the lost fleet series by John G. Hemry where everything is based on trying to managing relativistic distortion while maximizing the amount of your fleet that can hit the other fleet while minimizing the amount of the other fleet that can hit your fleet (basically a more complicated version of crossing the other fleet's t) not so much hitting the other fleet from above or below.

    The series isn't perfect by any means, don't much care for how the author writes characters for example and the worldbuilding is pretty thin, but the dude put a HUGE amount of thought into the mechanics of high speed 3D space combat, more than I've ever seen anywhere else.

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  6. I use the little tables that come stuck in pizzas when I need to show the elevation of minis- it's not the most stable, but it's a very ubiquitous little device that can be used to show minis on top of each other. I would imagine that someone with more proficiency with fire could melt a stack of 2 or 3 together for greater stability and granularity.

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    1. Little tables that come stuck in pizzas?? Is this an American thing?

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    2. This: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pizza_saver

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  7. Rather than physically representing altitude or depth you could abstract it into a numeric value (such as 1-10, represented by a d10) and use this as a bonus or a penalty to certain actions. For example, in aerial combat, having a higher altitude tends to give an advantage when beginning an engagement (greater range of vision so easier to spot the enemy first = initiative bonus?) or when performing dives (benefit of gravity = attack bonus?). Conversely, being at a lower altitude puts you at a disadvantage as you have use your movement points to climb.

    In underwater combat you have the conflicting forces of buoyancy and gravity so you might want to have one score for each, with depth providing certain bonuses for those who wish to escape into the murky deep or if you want to stay in the shallows it will be easier to escape your craft should you run into trouble. Buoyancy could be manipulated by letting off ballast or taking on water to allow your craft to surface or dive more easily.

    As for space combat, the lack of significant environmental forces means that no matter the directions two combatants approach each other from there is very little material advantage. Ultimately at least one seems likely to turn to meet the other, leading to a fairly standard planar combat. So, apart from potential hit locations or weapon firing arcs, I'm not sure how to represent altitude or position in space nor if it needs done at all. I do remember that Battlefleet Gothic used to represent altitude simply by letting ships pass "through" each other with no penalty though!

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  8. Actually, the same would be (almost) true for any realistic depiction of 2-dimensional combat. :)) If you look even at classical boxers, they rarely - if ever - stand in static positions exchanging attacks as miniatures would. And if you look at medieval/Ren recons' tournaments...
    It is static fights which are exceptions. Made somewhat more common when modern firearms allowed exchange from distances where changes in the combatants' positions are commonly negligible in contrast. Plus, there were always some cases like holding some legendary bridge or other. Still, we need to remember that that such cases became legendary precisely BECAUSE they were an exception.
    Of course, first RPG systems were made by people who were into miniatures wargames, not historical fencing... ;Pp
    Mike

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