Large Unit "AP"

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Large Unit "AP"

Postby Lomn on Wed 09 Mar 2016 16:30

This isn't really a formalized variant proposal, but rather a concept I've noodled around with. Basically, AP programs should be extendable to large units.

"Why would I do such a thing?" you ask. I dunno. There are lots of possible areas where a large unit is substantially more capable than an equivalent drone or buoy.
* I really want that BS/AF firing as soon as it detects something coming through the WP, and an AP program would let it do so where a crewed unit would not.
* A life-valuing race nevertheless needs to throw a massive fleet into a simultaneous-transit WP assault. If the simultaneous wave can go in autonomously, then you no longer need to deal with the ethical implications of the maneuver. Or, really, anything else in the "suicide run" category.

Some thoughts for related rules tweaks:
* The AP Program restriction to "within field of fire" should probably be dropped, reflecting the increased capability of ship sensors. This should perhaps only apply to Y- or Yc-equipped units (and, IMO, to sY-equipped Drones, too -- seems like "turn to engage a target aft" is a reasonable program).
* D9.04.2's auto-self-destruct for AP would need to be reconciled with D7.04.4.1's rules for non-mandatory large unit scuttles. My gut feeling here is that scuttling needs to include a non-stress-situation (or, in this case, a pre-programmed situation) for an automatic scuttle, at least for military units. For example, a race has lost a deep space battle near a shipyard with valuable units under refit, and they won't be able to evacuate those units. If they've got nearby weapons on other units, they can fire on and destroy the units, but if it's a matter of self-destruct, they're limited to rolling against RM/2. That's fine for an in-combat stressed decision, but a pre-planned and fully-evacuated scuttle shouldn't be such a gamble for success. An uncrewed unit again skips the potential ethical implications, and so should be able to detonate itself per a suitable condition (time, proximity, whatever).
* These units probably shouldn't be integrateable into a standard AP datalink, but they should be controllable by (APC), and probably could datalink with normal Z/Zc systems strictly among other large AP units.
* The "guarantee a shot" concept above, to circumvent crew readiness, is potentially unbalancing. What if the crew proceeds to readiness as usual while the BS autonomously fires, and disables the AP program when ready? As a result, there should be some appropriate changeover penalty. Something in the 2-to-10-turns of steady-state activity (same course/speed, no use of systems that would require an activated crew) to swap between AP and Crewed state would mean that the insta-fire BS really will have to accept the AP limitation of fighting that battle on the limited terms of an AP program instead of getting the best of both worlds.
* This should not require a special system. These things already have big computers.
* This might need some increased degradation under combat, though, to account for the lack of real-time damage control a crew provides. Maybe once the armor is breached, the unit operates as if it's lost all its Q systems (D4.05)?

What do you think? Any further ideas on how this might be useful?
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Re: Large Unit "AP"

Postby Cralis on Wed 09 Mar 2016 18:32

Potentially unbalancing? It would obsolete AP and surprise rules instantly.

What SL are you thinking?
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Re: Large Unit "AP"

Postby Lomn on Wed 09 Mar 2016 21:48

To be honest, I haven't really checked the balance of the combat side of things at all. I've been trying to come up with ways to do things like a Battleship Maine scenario, or to send capital sensors on a no-return shadowing mission.

But yeah, giving it some thought, things like (APC) control of a large unit would remove whatever limiting effect I'd hope restricting the unit to AP programming would have. So any sort of automated weapon use is probably a bad plan.
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Re: Large Unit "AP"

Postby noname_hero on Thu 10 Mar 2016 07:40

I think it is in fact possible to create reasonable rules for many scenarios where a player might wish to use large autonomous units. For starters, you could begin with something like this:

- a large AP unit uses Qr? (instead of Q?) that represents robotic maintenance units and their control systems that replace live crew
- large AP units are BG-1 grade and can only improve by HW upgrades
- large AP units have to be pre-programmed, which means writing down their SOPs and giving them to SM, or remote-controlled
- large AP units never require RM checks to follow their orders
- large AP units can maintain GQ 12 hours in a 24-hour period and require 1 hour of self-maintenance for every hour spent at GQ
- large AP units maintenance cost is say 95% of an equivalent standard unit

I would guess that such units might make sense for missions like first-line WP BS, WP assault units, shadow-and-don't-report-back-unless-predefined-conditions-are-met scouts, SRW swarmers remote-controlled by LRW units etc.
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Re: Large Unit "AP"

Postby LordKron on Thu 10 Mar 2016 09:49

I can see automated large units for minefield clearance. Similar to how the TFN began the assault on Thebes in Crusade. It didn't take sophisticated programming. The ships were designed to simply absorb mines until destroyed. The only conditional branch in such a program could be "If this unit survives X number of turns, launch drone to inform fleet".
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Re: Large Unit "AP"

Postby Whitecold on Thu 10 Mar 2016 11:04

My personal opinion would be rather to improve regular AP.
In terms of Yc, maybe allow it to be mounted on some dispersed architecture, using multiple drones or buoys.
For fully automated surveillance systems, one could allow DEEP equipped drones to loiter on standby indefinitely, and then have a possible command 'send off courier drone with info'
I agree that drones should have some conditional statements, at a simple level of "close in on closest detected unit" It is kinda ridiculous for a drone to overrun a target, realistically the fire control should have fired at closest approach.


For bases my opinion would be that you should use mines to bridge the gap between assault and activation of regular defenses. Fully activated bases should be already superior to mines, so their purpose would go away.
The same drones should provide all the cross WP bombardment capabilities you need, if this is unbalanced, I'd rather tweak drones than introduce large APs
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Re: Large Unit "AP"

Postby Lomn on Thu 10 Mar 2016 11:15

Whitecold wrote:For bases my opinion would be that you should use mines to bridge the gap between assault and activation of regular defenses. Fully activated bases should be already superior to mines, so their purpose would go away.
The same drones should provide all the cross WP bombardment capabilities you need, if this is unbalanced, I'd rather tweak drones than introduce large APs
Yeah, that's all reasonable. What really prompted the original brainstorm was something closer to LordKron's bit: can I tell a ship to "go" without a crew on it? For instance, to run across a WP and soak mine fire, as suggested, or for whatever other purpose AP-with-Decoy isn't sufficient (because at close enough range, it will be clear that the AP is not actually a large unit). Or, y'know, if I want to see how big a boom I can make with an all-Mg kamikaze. Thus, the desire to have a very simple autonomous large unit.

The combat stuff was just taking a stab at then answering "well, why can't you program the weapons, too?" Maybe the answer is that all races intelligent enough to achieve spaceflight also have the good sense not to risk the Skynet scenario (or have become J'Rill).
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Re: Large Unit "AP"

Postby Cralis on Thu 10 Mar 2016 13:52

Whitecold wrote:My personal opinion would be rather to improve regular AP.
In terms of Yc, maybe allow it to be mounted on some dispersed architecture, using multiple drones or buoys.


There are realism and game reasons to avoid this. But game reasons first: if you can create distributed versions of Yc for use over multiple AP, why not other systems? why not on smcft? why not on large units? Nevermind the realism problem of trying to define "how big" pieces of a system are so you can decide if it is possible.

Those systems can already be used in AP if the AP are large enough to use them.

For fully automated surveillance systems, one could allow DEEP equipped drones to loiter on standby indefinitely, and then have a possible command 'send off courier drone with info'


Drones will never run "indefinitely", they will always have a finite lifespan. But now a remotely programmable CD? How about CDs passing messages to other CDs? What are the implications for hackability? Maybe not to retrieve a message, but to insert a false message?

Look... how complex do you want the game? You can always house rule this stuff (obviously, this is a home rules forum). But getting this complex would add dozens of pages to the rules and I fear would burn you out.

I agree that drones should have some conditional statements, at a simple level of "close in on closest detected unit" It is kinda ridiculous for a drone to overrun a target, realistically the fire control should have fired at closest approach.


That argument could be made for any unit with a computer. While this is an artifact of the gameplay, it's simple and it works. You'd have to add special exceptions or introduce a combat pulse after every movement pulse to do that within the rules. And it will delay gameplay.

For bases my opinion would be that you should use mines to bridge the gap between assault and activation of regular defenses.


Mines like in Classic Starfire? AP programmed to fire into specific tH are the mines of later versions.

Fully activated bases should be already superior to mines, so their purpose would go away.
The same drones should provide all the cross WP bombardment capabilities you need, if this is unbalanced, I'd rather tweak drones than introduce large APs


Since AP are cheaper than bases, you can really pile them up. At some point the bases would be there just to end the stragglers left over from the AP attack.

Lomn wrote:Yeah, that's all reasonable. What really prompted the original brainstorm was something closer to LordKron's bit: can I tell a ship to "go" without a crew on it? For instance, to run across a WP and soak mine fire, as suggested, or for whatever other purpose AP-with-Decoy isn't sufficient (because at close enough range, it will be clear that the AP is not actually a large unit). Or, y'know, if I want to see how big a boom I can make with an all-Mg kamikaze. Thus, the desire to have a very simple autonomous large unit.


Oh I get the reasons and can think of more. I'd just caution that, like AP, you make sure you have explicit written orders... then follow them exactly.

The combat stuff was just taking a stab at then answering "well, why can't you program the weapons, too?" Maybe the answer is that all races intelligent enough to achieve spaceflight also have the good sense not to risk the Skynet scenario (or have become J'Rill).


Starfire presumes that AI is much more difficult than we currently think it is. And as a GM, I'd be ticked if I had to spent a lot of time referring to your AI directives (SOPs... large, conditionally driven, code-like SOPs) to figure out what happens all time.
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Re: Large Unit "AP"

Postby Lomn on Thu 10 Mar 2016 15:00

That makes sense.

Switching gears, what do you think of the bit about improving the scuttling chance for a pre-planned attempt? One of the scenarios I was looking at with this was one of a diplomatic mission that realizes things are going badly (previously talkative aliens now won't respond to us, possible war check with delayed initiation, that sort of thing). The contact ship has J drives or an L weapon or something else that the diplomats *really* don't want falling into the appendages of a prospective enemy. So, in the best tradition of Star Trek, they set a 5-minute timer and then beam down / hop into a gig, and the ship explodes behind them. Reasonable? This would have to be something that's clearly a non-combat situation prior to the scuttle in order to circumvent the usual RM-based roll.

("Fly off into the distant reaches of the system, with a course change somewhere a few sH down the line, until lack of maintenance results in drive failure" was the mobile deny-technology case that inspired this line of thought)

I mean, sure, the crew is still going to be captured by those aliens; that gig doesn't have any range to speak of. But that's probably better than explodey death.
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Re: Large Unit "AP"

Postby Cralis on Thu 10 Mar 2016 15:41

That's an interesting question. On one hand, if we allow wiping/scuttling of a unit to be easy then nobody would ever capture intel. And if we make it too hard, you'd be constantly losing intel if/when your ships are captured. And if we ever bring back boarding... oy.

There's so much to consider that the current rules do not:

* some graded leaders and exceptional officers should be able to do it, perhaps based on what undamaged systems remain.

* If you have full control of your ship, it could be easier.

* Perhaps "how" matters? Sabotaging a drive is probably harder than sabotaging an anti-matter generator?

* If your ship has been boarded, the enemy is probably trying to hack in to stop you. It should even be possible in civil wars, prior allies, or whenever a race has had open access to the language and equipment of another.

* Whatever happened to suicide bombs? Maybe even a cyber bomb for computer wiping. Are these considered standard fare?

* Should larger ships be harder to wipe of data? Maybe should have better chance of non-military data like system names and stuff. "See the girls of Beta IV!" shows an advertisement on an entertainment show running on a data pad dropped next to the toilet.

* And when we get closer to doing more on intel, even small amounts of data might be found on certain kinds of wrecks...

Can you think of anything else that might apply?
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