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Combat Mechanic for Pirate Game

13 replies [Last post]
Joined: 10/28/2009

I'm working on a pirate game, and i've got rules down for the combat, but it just doesn't feel right to me. I was hoping for some ideas.

The way it works right now is as follows:

Players have little sheets that record their crew and their cannons. (movement does not play a role in this combat)

Each player secretly allocates a number of their crewmen (they may have a max of 10 crewmen).
Each player rolls a D10, and adds his cannons (max of 3 cannons/ship). This becomes the Dice Roll.
The "Dice Roll" (Cannons + D10 roll) + the number of crewmen becomes the "Total"

The players compare their "Total" to their opponents "total".
The person with the lowest "total" loses a number of hull points (out of 5) equal to the differences in "Totals".
Then BOTH players lose a number of crewmen equal to the difference in the "Dice Roll".
As of right now, Crew members require money to replace, but play no other roll in the game except as combat fodder.

Combat continues until one ship is sunk, The two ships come to an agreement, or the attacker chooses to withdraw. There is currently no chance for a defending ship to "escape".

The changes I'm thinking of making go like this:

Ships need to keep 1/2 of their max crewmen, or their ship will operate at half speed outside of combat (making you less likely to throw them away in combat).

Instead of automatically losing crewmen, you roll a die for each point difference in the "Die Roll" and if its even you lose a crew member, odd you keep them.

I'm not sure if this will work or not, but I'm hoping it makes things work a little better.

truekid games
truekid games's picture
Joined: 10/29/2008
yay spammers... while i'm not

yay spammers...

while i'm not sure i have a good replacement suggestion, i will say that i'm not a fan of dice rolls generated specifically by other dice rolls.

Joined: 10/28/2009
I know the feeling. I'm

I know the feeling. I'm trying to capture the fact that every time you place crew into a fight, you risk them, win or lose. With the current system (auto-lose) you are certain to lose most, if not all, of the crew members that you put in.

This seems a bit harsh to me, and I'm looking at some way to mitigate that. Though I guess I could just rule that at the end of every battle, you roll a die for every crew-member tossed in. Since the die rolls are usually that far apart, this will normally happen any-how.

Nix_'s picture
Joined: 09/23/2009
I know the feeling. I have

I know the feeling. I have had a number of mechanicscome out this way.
How hard is it to get more crew members, and what happens if you lose your whole crew?
You could allow the defending ship to escape if their number is significantly larger. Also I would suggest only losing 1 or 2 colonists per attack, so one lucky roll does not offset things to much.
I would suggest letting the nonrandom modifiers dominate your mechanic.

Joined: 02/07/2009
Dice rolls arent probably the best option

Its hard to tell what kind of mechanic would be best to your idea since we dont know what the game is like outside combat. But reading your post I came up with an idea, dunno if its useful for you:

When players supply their ship (dunno what method youve been thinking for that, maybe drafting or something?) they place crew/weapon cards under their sheets so that other players dont know how many or what kind of cards there are under those sheets (naturally, in real life situations battling ships can only estimate the size of the crew by the size of the ship which would be visible in this mechanic). When ships battle, each player reveals the cards under their sheets and resolve the fight with them. Crew members and weapons could have attack rating and some special abilities that affect the combat or some other thing. Of course the size of your ship would limit the amount of crew members and cannons you can carry on your ship.

Joined: 11/05/2009
My thoughts

Three guns seem to be very few. Have you done some research?
Ships were often identified by the amount of guns they carried.
How many men manned one gun? The process was quite complicated: You had to load the powder (in a sachet) load the ball or grenade, prime the pan, aim, fire, cool the gun, clean the muzzle and start all over again. I think you probably needed at least three crew to a gun.
Maneuvers were important. The ships had guns forward, aft and broadsides. Most damage could be done by firing all the guns on the broadside.

As far as the mechanics are concerned
-Even if you do not want the ships to move on a grid, I would suggest you incorporate maneuvers to some extent. Maybe one maneuver committed to every four or five rounds? (Depending on the crew allocated)
-Allocating crew members influence the speed you can maneuver and the amount of guns you can fire per round. Crew firing guns can't work the sails.
-Keep die rolls to a minimum, and make the outcome more dependent on decisions (eg allocating crew, maneuvers etc) than chance. A separate die roll for every single possible crew member loss seems a lot. Try using the first roll to take care of all that.
-Keep the math to a minimum. People don't like adding things when they play.
-Design you user interface in such a way that it takes care of the bookkeeping and math for the player (Without pen and paper)

Good luck!

red hare
red hare's picture
Joined: 11/09/2009
what about the booty?

It sounds like it might be too easy to be sunk if the die roll is really lopsided. Also, if you're a pirate, you want to capture the other ship. You don't want to sink it because then there's no booty! Perhaps once a hull goes to zero, then you can capture that ship. Not sure if I'm mis-reading your game mechanic description.

dnddmdb's picture
Joined: 01/06/2009
Only a certain amount of Crew?

Why is it that you can only choose a certain number of your crew? I think that if the entire crew is onboard, then they should ALL work during battle and ALL risk death.

As far as manuveurs go, I think it would be neat to secretly designate certain crewmembers to cannons or manuvering, as each is jsut as important. You could make rolls to manuver damaged parts of the ship further from cannon fire.

About the attacker "withdrawing" it seems unrealistic for a provoked ship to simply ceasefire because the attackers regretted their decision. Plus, even if it was a matter of escaping, it would be difficult to escape the line of fire in a seafairing vessel right away.

Also, about what red hare said, navies sink ships, pirates capture ships. Perhaps you could have the option to incapacitate the enemy ship instead of destroying it?

Luck isn't a very good thing to rely heavily on, so maybe you should cut back on die rolls.

Just my thoughts,

Markus Hagenauer
Joined: 12/04/2009
I would say ...

I would say, you can´t loos more crewmen in a round than the number of cannons your opponent uses.
Further, in my oppineon you shoud be forced to allocate at least as much crewmen as cannons, because cannons without crew are useless.

sedjtroll's picture
Joined: 07/21/2008
neat idea - allocating crew

bielie wrote:
-Allocating crew members influence the speed you can maneuver and the amount of guns you can fire per round. Crew firing guns can't work the sails.
-Keep die rolls to a minimum, and make the outcome more dependent on decisions (eg allocating crew, maneuvers etc) than chance. A separate die roll for every single possible crew member loss seems a lot. Try using the first roll to take care of all that.
-Keep the math to a minimum. People don't like adding things when they play.
-Design you user interface in such a way that it takes care of the bookkeeping and math for the player (Without pen and paper)

I agree with all of bielie's points, and I particularly like the allocation of crew idea.

I envision a player board depicting a pirate ship, with spaces to add cannons (whether or not geography/direction matters - if it does there could be a certain number of spaces on each side), and Masts for sails... each with a number of spaces for Crew (little cubes perhaps). In order to use the Sails (to move faster, or do more actions per turn, or whatever), you allocate crew to the sails. In order to hit more or harder in combat, you allocate crew to Cannons. Maybe you can allocate some crew to a Boarding Party, which is like gambling that you'll win the combat - they don't help fight, but if you win they collect more loot...

Riffing on that idea, maybe the combat is 2 phased - you first resolve cannon fire, which might kill some opposing crew (and maybe some of your crew), then you board the ship and your boarding party trades off with remaining crew on the opponent's side 1-for-1, and any leftover crew gets to run off with some Treasure. Whether the traded off crew all die, or are simply set aside, or what happens to them is up to you.

Regarding your original post, I would use a much smaller die than 1d10. I like using Cannons as a permanent +1 to combat rolls, and a blind bid of Crew as a modifier, btu I think the Cannons + crew should be the bulk of the "total" and the die roll a smaller portion. 1d10 is pretty swingy and overpowers the other modifiers. With a max of 3 cannons and 10 crew to spend I'd go with 1d4, maybe 1d6. You want the die roll to be maybe 20-30% of the total, not 50+% (or, I would if I were you).

red hare
red hare's picture
Joined: 11/09/2009
limiting randomness

sedjtroll... your suggestion about the ratio between dice roll and the modifiers is spot on. I was running into the same problem with a debate game where the dice were basically determining many of the outcomes and I wasn't quite sure how to adjust it. Limiting the effect of the dice to only 20-30 % is a great suggestion.

Joined: 11/05/2009
Love the idea of a boarding

Love the idea of a boarding party. I forgot about all that...

I was thinking about maneuvers, but unfortunately I don't know enough about sailing to come up with any real solutions. Maneuvers take time from decision to command to doing to the sails and rudder whatever needs to be done, to the ship actually responding, and then you have to take the wind into account also. Without wind there is no movement.

So I was thinking of having a hand of maneuver cards.
-- A wind die roll tells you which cards you can have in your hand. (D6 with 3 colors on the faces. If you roll blue, you can play blue maneuver cards.) The players have different decks, so the maneuvers the players can do differ. If the wind is good for me, it is probably bad for you.
--Every few turns you commit to a maneuver, by placing the card face down on the table.
--A turn or two later the ship responds, you turn the card over and you opponent can see the maneuver.
--When the cards are turned over there would be some sort of rock paper scissors mechanic. The result says who can fire a broadside, who can fire only an aft gun and so on, or if you can grapple and board.
--The effect of the maneuver has to last another few rounds before you can issue a new order, or before the new order takes effect.
--By this time your opponent has also issued new maneuver orders.

Now to start working on my own project again...


Taavet's picture
Joined: 08/15/2008
What's the issue you are trying to solve?

Analyze your current mechanic more. What works, what doesn't?

It sounds like the problem you are having is based on crew being easily expendible, as your two suggestions are to penalize the player for having a small crew, but also adding in a luck factor where not all the crew has to die.

So we have two factors: Crew and Cannons (3 if you wanna throw in manuevers). In order to make things a little more 'fun' (not deterministic and slightly random) you have added in a die roll.

I assume because I don't know that both ships in a battle suffered casualties and needed repairs after a battle regardless of who the victor was.

How about something as simple as paper/rock/scissors? (manuevers?) So using whatever formula you want (crew casualties remain static) to get a total, add in advantage and disadvantage. There could be more then 3 manuevers to make things more interesting based on what type of ships they had but for my example we will use, turn left, right, and straight. Not sure how your ships encounter each other but depending on the way they are oriented they play a manuever. Again to more simply understand my point, we will say Left beats Straight, Straight beats Right, and Right beats Left. Any player out manuevering his opponent gets an advantage. Advantage allows you to either lose less crew, or damage opponents ship more. If the first 'exchange of fire' results in a manuevers tie, no modification to results. Subsequent ties will result in the previous round Advantage being lost and the previous round loser becoming Disadvantaged. A Disadvantaged player could then choose whether they wanted to take more damage or lose more crew.

I don't know if this would solve your 'crew issue' or not but I think it will give the battle a much better feel. People tend to not think of Rock/Paper/Scissors as random and so would still feel in control of the battle even if they were continually losing. At the same time if they could out manuever their opponent they could turn the tide of battle.

Just something else to think about.

Joined: 11/05/2009
If you add a wind die as I

If you add a wind die as I suggested, the rock paper scissors mechanic would not be totally random. You know the direction of the wind, so you know which three of the nine (for instance) possible maneuvers are available to your opponent. You do not know which one he will play though, but you can make an educated guess, based on your knowledge of his knowledge of your available maneuvers. (Now I'm confused...)

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