Here’s a new house rule for BSG:

Player characters can use Plot Points to aid a group, unit, or NPC under their command. The PC may either create a pool for use by those NPCs prior to the action sequence beginning (ex. CPT Muir decides to create a 4PP pool for his vipers during an upcoming battle) or, they must be able to communicate with the NPC to use plot point during an action sequence (ex. Muir has comms with a viper that is about to start a strafing run on a Cylon position. He can aid the roll of the NPC with his own plot points.)

Colonial Military Equipment (Part 1): Spacecraft Equipment

The corebook covers the basics of Vipers and Raptors, and capital ships, but it was a first generation set of rules that never got cleaned up by Margaret Weis Publishing with the promised Colonial Military sourcebook. There’s a lot of wiggle room purposefully built in — this is not a combat simulation game; it’s a role playing game…but a bit of crunch might help with verisimilitude. So here goes…

In addition to the usual cannons and missiles that the light spacecraft of the Colonial Fleet employ, there are other important bits of gear that can save a pilot’s life:

Sparrows and Jiggers

“Sparrows” are the name of flare packages that both Vipers and Raptors employ for their protection. Designed to confuse and lure a missile away from their intended target, they use intense heat and visible light to combat an infrared or optical lock-on.

In game terms, a sparrow gives the pilot an opportunity (as an additional action to or replacement action for evasion) to roll a INTELLIGENCE+TECHNICAL ENGINEERING/ELECTRONIC WARFARE test. If they can beat the original gunnery roll of the enemy craft, the sparrow lures off the missile.

Jiggers are special chaff packages that shred themselves as they are launched, creating interference, and can be used to distract DRADIS-seeking missiles. In game terms, there’s very little difference between the two, but the GM could use IR vs. DRADIS missiles to give a bit more sense of realism.

Vipers typically carry two of each in the undercarriage of their vehicle, back near the engines. Raptors carry six of each.

Electronic Warfare

A new specialty for characters is Technical Engineering/Electronic Warfare. The characters use this to detect signals (SIGINT) and electronic emissions (ELINT.) The characters can do things with this skill like identify the EM or jump signature of a vessel, tell if the ship is under power or not, the temperature aboard, electronic activity that would allow anti-radiation missiles to lock on to the craft. They can also use it to identify open data ports and use the vessel’s communications to try and gain access to the vessel’s computer. (This requires a successful HARD Electronic Warfare test and a Hacking test vs. the INT+WIL of the ship, or the ALERTNESS+TECH ENGINEERING/COMMUNICATIONS or ELECTRONIC WARFARE of the target vessel’s communications or data control officer. Not all vessels have open ports, or they are only open during communications.)

The other use for Electronic Warfare is to jam communications, missile systems, etc. This is difficult, depending on the range to target, their shielding, and the frequencies covered.) In combat, jamming operations will often disturb friendly, as well as enemy communications unless the raptor’s ECO (or vessels EW specialists) can fix on the proper frequencies — a HARD  ALERTNESS+TECH ENGINEERING/COMMUNICATIONS or EW test. Once located, they can attempt to jam communications (thus rendering any benefits from a command and control element ineffective.)

Example: One Nite is the EW bird for a skirmish between Eagle Squadron and the Cylons. Her ECO, Drippy, has managed to isolate the Cylons’ communications (coded, of course and nearly impossible to break.) She takes over and attempts to jam Cylon communications and succeeds. Until they can re-establish communications, the Cylon squadron commander can no longer coordinate attacks, giving Eagle Squadron initiative each turn until the jamming stops or rendered ineffective.

There’s a problem with jamming — the jamming vessel is often completely blinded to incoming communications and can have their DRADIS array likewise jammed. They are also the brightest EM signature on the battlefield. While jamming, any unit targeting them gets a +2 shift to their PILOT or HEAVY WEAPON test to shoot the raptor.

This makes raptors a much more important part of the battlefield in a Batlestar Galactica game; they can easily turn the tide, as much as a Viper.

Decoys, Jammers, and other EW Weapons

During the rescue of the Colonials from New Caprica, we see the raptors use a new weapon they had not in other episodes — decoys. These are essentially missiles that are programmed to send out an signature that approximates another vessel. It hammers out an electromagnetic signal that creates a DRADIS “reflection” and associated signals to confuse the enemy. They are only truly effective in environments where DRADIS and other sensors are suffering from interference — as in a nebula, the heliopause of a planet, etc. They are programmed by the ECO using INTELLIGENCE+TECH ENGINEERING/ELECTRONIC WARFARE. The ruse is discovered if the enemy beats the result with an ALERTNESS+PERCEPTION or ELECTRONIC WARFARE test. Each turn, the enemy gains a +1 shift to their skill die.

Similar are jammers — missiles that are packed with high-powered transmitters that create havoc on the electronic battlefield, much like jamming operations for a ship. The missiles are fast moving and can be programmed to run a straight line or a shifting course. They will act on missiles, DRADIS, and communications within skirmish range and operate for up to an hour.

Lastly, there are EMP generators. These large pulse coils send out a massive burst of electromagnetic energy that is designed to stun or disable electronic-controlled enemies (i.e., Cylons.) They have a range of skirmish and will effect any Cylons aboard a ship, or within range. Most vessels are hardened against the effects, but it is very effect against the centurions (due to scaling.) They do planetcraft-scale d8W. The downside, since they are often mounted inside a vessel as a last-ditch defense against boarding elements, the effects are felt by the firing vessel, as well.

(Lee Adama used one of these arrays, slaving it to the FTL drive to make it appear that a nuclear weapon had detonated and destroyed Colonial One. The EMP generator would have done d12S damage slaved to the FTL with a range of capital. Using the FTL to boost the signal apparently caused stun damage to the crew of Colonial One, as well.)

Missile Guidance

As with the rules for sparrows and jiggers, missiles might be IR, optical/laser guided, DRADIS, or anti-radiation homing. In practical terms, in space, none of this is going to matter too much. There’s a lot of open space and not a lot to distract a missile. But as with the sparow/jiggers, the GM might want the pilots to specify their load-out for a mission. One way to do this is if there is a specific target — say, a transmitter tower of a Cylon outpost — might make using anti-radiation missiles more effective (a +1 or +2 shift to their PILOT or HEAVY WEAPON test to hit the place. Then it might matter that the Cylon raiders aren’t excellent radiation sources, their stealthy hulls providing a -1 shift to the same to hit them with the missiles.

The Big Guns

Capital ships’ weapons are pretty hazily defined in the BSG RPG. We know their range and their scale for sure, but what about the number of guns that can come to bear? Partly, this could accounted for by having the commanding officer do an AVERAGE INTELLIGENCE or ALERTNESS+PERCEPTION/TACTICS test and give the gunnery crews a +1 shift to their skill for every three over the result. This would represent the number of batteries that could be brought to bear on a target. Step the CO’s difficulty up a level for each target they are trying to engage.

How much damage to the guns do?

There’s Table 6.4 on page 133 of the rulebook. This applies to vehicle/planetcraft scale — light weapons would be wepaons designed for vehicle defense against personnel, medium would be standard armaments, and heavy would be something akin to the 130mm cannon that a modern-day AC130 carries.

For point defense, typical AA guns and 40mm autocannons would be “heavy” (d12W damage), with medium being slower-fire guns like .50 machineguns. Light would be the equivalent of a battery of squad assault weapons trained on a vessel…they can do damage, but it might take a while to drop a marine landing shuttle.

At the spacecraft scale, we are talking about massive AA guns that explode and do flak damage to larger craft. We haven’t seen this in the show; they use their railguns for that, but there’s no reason your campaign couldn’t have some sort of dedicated battery of cannon/railgun that serve the purpose.

Railgun damage is covered on page 134 of the rulebook in Table 6.5. What kinds of cannons would vessels have? Figure for small vessels — tenders, medical ships, and other transports, they have light railguns. They need the space for other equipment and cargo. this would be the typical “defense” gun a civilian vessel might have gotten a license for.

Medium railguns would be typical on gunstars and light battlestars like Valkyrie. Once again, there could be volume issues for the magazines causing them to favor the lighter weaponry, or perhaps if they were built during a time where the Cylons were not viewed as the main threat, heavy cannons are considered overkill against pirates and smugglers. they also might be cheaper…you have to figure a battlestar is an expensive piece of equipment, and the government would save money wherever they could.

Heavy railguns are the stuff of main line battlestars.

Missile payloads aren’t always going to be the biggest baddest available. You don’t use a MOAB for a surgical strike, for instance… Light missiles on a light craft would be the equivalent of a TOW pod — something to use against small, lightly armored vehicles when in air support mode. For light missiles, give the pilots a benefit that works to use them — they provide a larger area of effect, say, than a heavier missile, as a light missile pod shoots multiple warheads at the same time. Medium missiles, of course, are the typical combat warheads, and heavy would be large anti-structure weapons designed to destroy buildings and the like.

Spacecraft scale missiles start with light — these would be typical anti-ship missiles carried by fighters. They are small in size, but big in bang. (Think a Martel or Exocet.) Medium missiles would be cannon-fired missiles, essentially guided railgun payloads capable of tracking a target. Heavy missiles would have their own dedicated silos or have to be fired from dedicated railgun batteries. These could also represent low-yield nuclear missiles (below, say, 1 MTn.) In addition to anti-spacecraft duty, they would be used for ground bombardment. Extreme would be the equivalent of 1Mtn+ fuel-air bombs (unusable in space) and nuclear payloads.

Nuclear Bombs in Atmosphere

Nuclear bombs are not especially devastating in space. Spacecraft are shielded against radiation, there is no atmosphere to create pressure waves. But planetside, in an atmosphere — BAD.

Here’s the damage caused by atomic/nuclear/thermobaric weapons. For each blast increment, half the damage (example: the Cylon use a 1 Mtn weapon on Caprica City. The damage rolled is 11. Every structure takes 11 points [usually enough to destroy most buildings] and vehicles 110, people dead if not in shelters… At 3 miles, the damage is 5 [round down] to structures — larger buildings will be severely damaged.)

 And because you need an idea of what you can destroy in game…

There was some debate during one of the play sessions about skill levels that weren’t expert or master for characters. You might not be a combat expert, for instance, but might’ve had some martial arts training…what die do you get? How about unskilled folks?

Looking over the rules and the mooks/crowds templates, I noticed that “normals” have a d4/6/8 for affiliations. d4 is the lowest die used by Marvel, so for action tests where the character may only have 2dx for their pool, but some inkling of a specialty (you fight crime but don’t have a combat expert…you’ve at least picked up some kind of experience) they get a d4 for their pool if they don’t have the plot point to buy a d6. If they are “trained” but not experts — you can specify that at character creation and get a d6 in the specialty.

 

Our latest game is set in 1930s Shanghai, and the flavor has been a cross between Indiana Jones, noir gangster, and chop socky action…while I’ve been working hard to make China fairly realistic to the period, this is — to my mind — a pulp comic being played out. It’s how I frame scenes, in panels and splash pages and sound bubbles (SMACK!) So looking at the combat rules, I’ve started tweaking to make it a bit more pulpy/Hong Kong action movie in style.

One of those tropes is the hero fighting scads of black-clad bad guys. The Ubiquity system rules give you a -2 dice step for each attacker past the first to your Defense, but that doesn’t capture the flavor of fighting hordes of warrior monks bent on turning you into a pin cushion.

To this end, I’ve created a house rule to 1) speed combat, and 2) capture the hero ducking/blocking multiple opponents while fighting. For each attacker wailing on the character at the same time, they gain a +2 dice step, but they roll as one attack; the character gets his regular Defense, or Brawl/Martial Arts test (to block), or Melee (to parry) the attack. Mechanically, it’s a bit easier on the character, but not by much, and each wave of baddies means a -2 to those defense rolls. There is a logical spatial limit to how many people can gang up on you effectively, about 4 time — anymore would blocked by the bodies of the other attackers.

Example: Jack MacMahon has slaughtered a bunch of Silk Mountain Triad guys with his trusty Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum (#RM11!) and has had to resort to the sweet sport of boxing to defend himself. He describes his defense as classic boxing style (hands up, guarding as much as he can and dancing about, his Boxing skill is higher than his Defense, so he is blocking shots, rather than trying to dodge combat: he has a Boxing dice pool of 6. Being in a tight space on a balcony over the rest of the action, the GM decides only two guys can get to him at once. They are typical mook, but with a bit more skill — Kung Fu of 5+2 for the second attacker. Jack rolls 4, the mooks get 2. He’s dancing and blocking shots fairly handily…but they’ve moved onto a wider area of balcony where the next wave of mooks come at him from behind.

The GM decides the max number that can get to him are four mooks. Jack’s Boxing is now a 4 for this set of blocks, but these mooks are fresh — Kung Fu 5+8 for the number of mooks: they roll 13 dice and get five successes, while Jack only rolls a 2. He takes 3 non-lethal hits for that wave of attacks and is getting bounced around pretty badly, reaching his stun rating.

The place where more numbers would be applicable would be grapple attacks, where the weight of attackers behind the immediate attackers could be added on, even this shouldn’t add more than +16 dice (eight attackers.)

Example: Jack has escaped the Silk Mountain, staggering out of the temple and straight into the arms of a crowd of the bad guys. They go for a grapple attack, seeking to dogpile him. There are dozens of bad guys, and they roll a base 4+16 — 20 dice, while Jack rolls his Defense (Boxing really doesn’t apply for grappling attacks…Wrestling, yes) of 5: He gets incredibly lucky: five successes! The mooks don’t even get their average of 10, but do get a seven: Bad guy throw themselves on Jack, driving him to the ground and securing him to be taken before their nefarious leader…

 

Style points are vastly underpowered in my opinion in Hollow Earth Expedition.  To  this end, our house rules are such — style points earn you a success…period.  No opportunity to roll, nonsense.  They can be played before or after a test.

Here are a few of the house rules we’ve developed over the years to make Castle Falkenstein flow faster and better.

1.  Each player and the GM get a deck of cards for play.  Discards get shuffled back into your own deck.  This seems to speed play by not depleting the a solitary player deck.

2.  New combat rules…

Initiative options for gunfighting — an opposed Perception and/or Gunslinger test.  (Skill is in the Six-Guns & Sorcery book.)  For fisticuffs or fencing, draw a card from your fortune hand and add to the applicable skill.

One we use for speed and a bit of random chance: for brawling and fisticuffs, as well as for gunfights in the same is all characters and the GM cut their fortune deck and add the result to their fisticuffs, fencing, gunslinger, or firearms skills — whichever is appropriate.  It’s a fast way of knowing who goes first and is more random than drawing a card for the action.

Once initiative is determined, firearms tests are conducted as per the usual rules — marksmanship or gunslinger test+card drawn from the fortune deck v. athletics draw of their target.

Fencing/fisticuffs is where we changed things up a bit.  This is the only time the fortune deck changes from the standard 4-card hand.  Characters with skills of good or great gain another card (5), excellent or extraordinary two more cards (6.)  this represents the greater number of opportunities a more skilled fighter can see/exploit.   This is the number of cards they will have for the whole of the action round.  It is replenished at the end of the round.

Those with initiative go first, making their attack.  Attacks do not have to be skill suit specific (i.e. clubs for fisticuffs.)  Instead, the attacker chooses a “line of attack”  based on the cards in his deck.  He can choose upper (torso and head represented by diamonds), middle (arms and abdomen/groin represented by hearts), or lower (legs/groin represented by clubs.)  Spades are an all purpose card used to defend on any line of the attack and represent the ability to dodge and weave out of the way of an attack.

The face value of the card (if in the correct line of attack) is added to the appropriate combat skill.  If the player chose upper, but had not diamonds, they can play multiple cards of other suits — each adding one.  [Yes, players have had to do this…]  The defender must play a card of the proper suit (an upper attack requires an upper defense), but if they don’t have the right suit, they can play the spade for full face value, or any number of the other suits in their hand at a face value of one.

Example:  Sir George is fighting the nefarious Han Ping with swords.  George has the initiative and goes for an upper attack.  He pullss a 10 of diamonds, giving him an 18 with his great fencing, and holds it, waiting to show.  He calls the line of attack, and Ping’s player draws a card from his deck.  He has no diamonds, but does have a jack of spades.  With his good fencing, it’s a 17 — doing Ping an injury. (You can use the original rules for weapon damage and injury or the Comme il Faut with this…I prefer the CiF, myself.)

Had Ping gotten an 18 (a queen of spades or hearts), he would have stopped the blow.  If he stopped the blow, or was still able to act, he would pick a line of attack, Sir George would defend.

Changing initiative:  Once a player/NPC has initiative, they keep it unless on of three things happen: 1) their attack on someone fails by three or more points (UNLESS they pull a spade of equal or higher value to the attack card!), 2) they are struck by their opponent after having made an attack, 3) the opponent disengages from the fight.  Once the opponent has initiative, they keep it until one of these factors is met.

Example:  George clipped Ping, but the injury was not serious.  Ping strikes back with a quick slash lower (clubs) with a 4 of clubs: 10 total.  George has nothing in clubs or spades!  He plays two hearts for a total of 10.  He stops the blow and retains initiative.  The fortune hands are replenished.  (5 for George, 4 for Ping since Ping has one hit to him [ordinarily, with a GOOD fencing he’d have 5.])  George has crap  cards, however:  he plays a 4 of hearts for a total of 12.  Ping draws a 6 of spades:  he equals George to stop damage and beats the face value of the attack with a spade…he takes initiative for the round unless George can beat his next attack by 3 (or has equal or higher spade to the attack card.)

EFFECTS OF INJURY:  each injury taken lowers the fortune hand of the character 1 card.  This is the only time the fortune deck can drop below 4 cards and reflects the effect of injury on the person and the limitations they have to exploit openings in combat.

When you no longer have cards, you can no longer fight and drop unconscious for the rest of the scene.

STOP HITS:  Sometimes, you can make a desperate attempt to stop an incoming attack.  You don’t have the right suit or a spade to defend.  If the player has a 2 or 3 in their hand, they may “stop hit” — attacking to stop an incoming attack.  The unresolved attack card is placed face down on the table and the attack defends against the stop hit as normal.  If successful, their original attack follows through.  If their defense fails, the original attack does not happen and the card is discarded.

If a stop hit succeeds by three or more, the defender gains initiative.

Example:  Ping goes for a head strike and lays face-down his queen of diamonds.  George’s player, seeing the delight in the other player’s eyes, knows his 3 of diamonds isn’t going to cut it.  He calls “stop hit!  Upper!”  Ping’s player has no other diamonds and his queen is committed.  He has no spades and plays all three of his remaining cards for a total of 9.  George hits with an 11.  He injures Ping again, and stops the attack, but does not gain initiative…

JOKERS:  Jokers play like a 15 on an attack or defense, but also give a special bonus as an attack or defense.  In an attack, the player may chose to disarm their opponent, grapple, or knock them down or back.  A joker played in defense allows the defender to disengage from the fight, and either run for it or find a better position and retest for initiative, if they want to reengage.  I have allowed them to disarm their attacker if they succeeded by a wide margin (3+.)

If both players draw jokers, the defender gets to disengage without harm, but the attack may disarm them.  Initiative is redrawn.

GRAPPLING:  conducted as Physique challenges using the ability suit (clubs.)

I’VE ONLY GOT SPADES….AND INITIATIVE:  You lose your attack.  you just couldn’t see an opening.  You do not lose initiative next round unless the other player succeeds in striking you.

MULITPLE OPPONENTS:  There are only so many openings that can be exploited by multiple opponents.  For each extra attacker, the GM may add a card to the attack fortune hand (which is a base of 4 cards.)  Example:  4 guys jump Sir George on the Wapping Docks.  He pulls his swordcane and gets his attack fortune hand of 5 for his great fencing.  The attackers have 7 cards in their hand (4+3 extra attackers.)  The opponents only get one attack/round, but they’re more likely to hit.

While a bit fast and loose, these combat rules make combat fast! and aid in giving a sense of what your character is doing.  Calling lines of attack gives ideas for what they are trying to do and gets away from the “18!  I hit!” mediocrity of a fight sequence.

Have fun!