Monday, July 28, 2014

Air combat & skills

Air combat (and naval for that mater) is a seldom developed mechanic in games. I guess if working in 2D space leads to complex game rules, working with 3D space can only lead to even more complex rules.

I can't recall an encounter in which the momentum of my character was relevant and in which STR lead to any significant effect in movement. On the other hand in air combat altitude is speed and speed is life. Keeping track of airspeed, altitude, and factoring in thrust can lead to some very complex movement rules and we're not even getting into target acquisition, tracking, leading and firing. Then there's the matter of gun fire and missile fire. It's clear to see how things can get complicated quickly.

So when facing such complexity how can I trim it down to keep the grist of air combat while keeping things simple enough to resolve in a few seconds? I also what to explore in what non-combat ways can pilot skills become relevant in a tabletop RPG.

Let me enumerate some air combat variables:

  • Aircraft performance
  • Weapon system performance
  • Maneuvers and location
  • Pilot skills
  • Pilot attributes
  • Squadron and wing man teamwork
These variables have to be combined to create a realistic yet fast paced air combat. I just don't see working every 1000ft rise or drop in altitude, turn, spin and maneuver. Yet leaving everything to a success or failure roll in which players narrate the outcome without any real aircraft, weapons nor skill constraint can be a little too free form for my taste.

In regards to non-combat pilot skills I see a great deal of applications. Although many may require the character to stay on the aircraft and that can lead to party breakup which may not be everyone's cup of tea. Nonetheless not-combat skills can be helpful in many ways:
  • Piloting entry or exit aircraft
  • Plan aircraft load to carry mission critical equipment
  • Logistics and route planning
  • Maintenance
  • Sabotage
Be it a PC or NPC, having a clear understanding of aircraft skills and a simple yet realistic model for air combat and maneuvers can add a lot to a game session.

How much has air combat and aircraft skills played a role in your games?  If so, have you house ruled or worked off a set of mechanics?

Image Credit
US Army
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Cudd, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot from B Company, 2nd Battalion (General Support), 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Falcon, prepares his equipment prior to a personnel and equipment movement mission, Aug. 31, at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
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