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Tech Limitations – How up is up?

An anectdote on handling In Game conflict regarding tech limitations.

I want to do a couple of articles about placing limitations (specifically on how your in game technology works) for your Role Playing Game.

And this is in part to refute the arguments for those who advance the proponents for the “Rule of Cool.”

(In short, advocacy for the “rule of cool” goes something like, if something “sounds” cool the GM should allow it because it probably “is” cool and that’s fun)! Right?

And today I what I want to discuss is how to deal with conflicts of understanding about tech limitations. (Yeah if I’d used the “rule of cool” maybe things would have gone more smoothely? Hold your breath until the end).

But here’s how I resolved this in game conflict. It might help you some day.

But first . . .

As a teenager I has serious thoughts about joining the Air Force.

I learned what I could about being a pilot and how airplanes worked.

I grabbed what simple airplane flight sims were available back then and practiced flying planes.

Ultimately I didn’t join the Air Force because a lot of well meaning adults in my life suggested that I wouldn’t be admitted.

At 6’00” I was “too tall” to fit into a standard fighter craft because the Air Force designed their fighters for short people to cut down the pilot weight. However, the Air Force had already introduced the F-16 Viper with a pilot height maximum of 6’ 03.”

I also didn’t have “perfect” vision and was wearing glasses, but since most air combat occurs over the horizion and I can read any CRT display as well as anyone with 20/20 vision, that wasn’t a real barrier either. (Later when I joined the Army I discovered that I could reliably send a 5.56 mm projectile downrange at a target 300 meters away, and reliably hit said target. Not bad for someone with “poor” vision).

(And then there were the well meaning adults who discouraged me from a military career due to the negative culture of the military).

But for years before I was talked out of a military career, I spent years learning about how airplanes worked from the perspective of becoming a pilot!

Eventually in Film School, I learned that Star Wars was a derivative of World War II movies. And once I realized that observation, I discovered that yes, Star Wars vehicles act an awful lot like real airplanes do (up until the sale of the Star Wars rights on October 12th, 2012. But that’s another article).

So as a Star Wars Game Master, I have a solid foundation of understanding on how Star Wars space ships should act and behave.

So lets talk about the session in conflict and the conflict in that session.

The team has just pulled off a dramatic hijacking operation but their ship took some pretty heavy hits from an Imperial Star Destroyer. (Hull Threashold is at about 55%).

Their ship heads to the next world of interest which is only a 24 hour quick trip one parsec away to conduct an investigation on a separate mission.

They arrive and are attacked by a couple of battle droids at their first building. There are some injuries but the PC’s prevail.

They head to a second location and are hovering above it in their ship. It’s at the end of the session and the NPC sensor operator reports contact.

As the GM I blurt out a series of Air Force jargon that clearly to me indicates that quite a few airborne fighters are approaching (between a dozen and a score). We wrap for the night. I think that I’ve laid out that there is a fight that we’re starting with next week!

During the week, I reach out to the players and introduce some modified rules for space/arial combat (based in part by feedback from the players and to make FFG Star Wars RPG combat rules that make sense)! I invite the players to review these as we’ll be using them for the next session.

Next week.

I’ve laid out the table top map with all of the Star Wars miniatures so that we can dive right into this exciting fight!

Off to the side are the aforementioned inbound fighters that are vectored to approach the group.

The situation is that the PC’s have their trusted but considerably damaged Gozanti C-ROC being escorted by an X-Wing and a Y-Wing. (The second Y-Wing had been piloted by a PC and that player was unable to attend that week. The player character had come down with the “Valarian Flu” so that ship was grounded too).

To try to paint a picture . . .

The C-ROC is in the center of the map pointed East at about 82 degrees. The inbound “unknown” bogeys are North (slightly west) at about 350 degress relative to the C-ROC. The X and Y Wings are just in front of the C-ROC and because they were warned by the Sensor Operator (and communications tech) are pointed at the inbound bogeys.

I also have the two pilots of the C-ROC perform a computers skill check and both realize that something is “wrong” with the port side shields. (Yes, that’s the side that the inbound bogeys are approaching).

Okay. Situation lined up. Ready to go?

The bogeys are far enough away that the C-ROC has about two turns before the fighters arrive.

And that’s when I learn that everyone is dismayed that there are airborne fighters out there! All of the players thought that the ‘bogeys’ were on the ground! Not in the air!

Minor correction (I think). Let’s game on. Ready?

Well no, being that we’re doing a spaceship battle, I check and see which players have reviewed the revised rules.

No one has reviewed the rules.

And it’s clear that they didn’t understand or didn’t read the session review notes.

As the Game Master, I realize that this battle may take more talking through and explanation than I had anticipated. I’ll need to exercise some patience.

I ask the players to grab the updated Starship Combat Actions/Maneuvers cards that I had printed out and handed out the previous week. (The rules rewrites weren’t THAT much of a surprise. Or they shouldn’t have been). All the players grab their cards . . . except for the player running the Team Commander/C-ROC Pilot.

We go around the two dimentional table and I ask the players what their characters do in turn (like I’d done in every other previous combat).

The X-Wing and Y-Wing Pilots continue to vector in to the bogeys to try to intercept. They set up for a coordinated approach at the same speed (speed 4) and double their shields to the front to increase their chances of surviving the initial merge.

“Okay ‘C-ROC pilot/team commander.’ What does your character do?”

“I go up!”


I do the quintisential Game Master thing of asking “Are you sure?” (To which any rational player should never respond YES! At the very least the prudent player should hesitate before saying “Let me think about it”).

I try to point out other options which may be better. I point out that using the retro engines (used to break a ship for the purpose of gently landing) may get you a vertical speed of 1, but the top speed of the C-ROC is 3 for which it has six robust engines pointing out the back to achieve that modest speed with.

“I go UP!” the player insists.

Okay . . .

Let’s just go around the table and push on with the next turn of combat.

The rest of the players advance the plot. The fighters get closer and start evading as they prep for the merge. One of the wounded NPC’s shows up for the alert and reports that she’s taking one of the gunnery stations. Everyone else on the C-ROC (player and NPC) are now at battle stations ready to fight off the swarm of fighters.

“So ‘Pilot/Team Commander’ what are you doing now?”

His response was distressed and agitated.

“I told you already! We’re going UP.” At this point he grabs the C-ROC mini and positions it so that the nose is pointed at the ceiling and the tail toward the floor.

Uh. No.

I try to point out that his version of up doesn’t correlate with reality.

This leads to a type of discussion that we’ve already had in the past. The last time was about why the crew couldn’t shoot a radio signal through a planet to the team on the other side of the world. I quipped that radios are a line of sight technology while he injected that H/AM radios can travel around the world (they can, by bouncing off the ionosphere and the surface) but H/AM radios aren’t installed on vehicles mounting rapidly rotating EM generating magnetos (engines) because that EM messes with AM radio.

His second rejoinder was to pull out his cell phone and claim that he could make a call to “anyone” else on the planet!

Yeah, but only if he’s within a couple of miles of a cell tower. Cell phones are actually terribly short ranged radios!

So we’re on the verge of another one of those conversations and this player definitely hasn’t studied the 126 pages of GURPS Space (as a primer) nor does his background lend himself to being employed anytime soon in the Aerospace industry. (And I know you’re dying to ask so I’m going to answer, “Yes, I’ve submitted multiple applications to those type of employers”).

But I digress.

The player issues his first argument salvo with “This is a Spaceship!” while waving my custom painted C-ROC mini above the table.

I don’t want to divert the rest of the players attention into an in depth discussion about the subtle but important distinctions between a “spaceship” and a “rocket” (the type of vehicle that the Team Commander is implying). There’s a lot to unpack in GURPS Space. Based on the previous radio conversation, I doubt I’m going to get very far pointing out the finer points of winged and lifting bodies for spaceships. We’ve already hashed out how I don’t accept the premise that any Imperial Star Destroyer would be able to hover less than one kilometre above the surface of any world!

Nor is this a player who would have reviewed CW Lemoine’siscussion of an F-22 Crash in Nevada. An advanced fighter that, while capable of vertical flight, can’t go verticle while under its stall speed.

I just don’t want to waste any more valuable table time with this type of argument. Time to just move on.

“So no changes this turn?” I ask.

We proceed around the rest of the table resolving that turn. The X-Wing and Y-Wing identify that they are fighting clone wars era Vulture Droids and they get a count of 18 enemy fighters.

When I turn to the player running the Team Commander for his latest input for his character. The C-ROC is still “motionless” with Vulture fighters swooping down toward the ship with the weak side of the shields still facing the approaching fighters!

In response, the player blurts something along the lines, “I swear to God, if you ask me one more time, I’m packing up and leaving.”

“What part of ‘UP’ do you not understand?”

Indeed non-engineer. Good question.

But how does one respond?

The real question wasn’t how “up” up is.

To a limited extent, he had read the tea leaves. His ship has only 55% hull left and one shield is ‘inexplicably’ not working and there are nearly 20 enemy fighters screaming toward his 'precious!'

As the GM, I knew that this player had planned on to settle down somewhere to affect repairs, but this planet wasn’t the place to do that!

But in reality, this player had become increasingly agitated throughout the session and was disengaged from the game.

He’s in the depths of his own Pvt Hudson “Game OVER!” mood, but now that it’s time to grab an M4RA battle rifle, this player wasn’t responding with “You want some of this too?”

He was exposing his chest and begging for a mercy kill. One that was going to wipe out the whole team with him.

(Or so he thought).

That and the VA Hospital had changed my pain meds to one that was shortening the fuse on my temper so there was a strong urge for me to scream something like “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”

I’d been driving my little GM Fiat without positive direction, so I decided to park that car and take a different direction.

I definitely can’t pull out the Let them win option. My player is too far gone for that.

“Okay everyone. I know that you’re all surprised by the fighters. I understand that none of you expected this kind of fight.”

“However, this is the fight that I planned for.”

“That said, its obvious you aren’t up for it.”

“Let’s just skip this whole thing. We won’t do this fight and just say that you get a way.”

Yep. I was ready to scrap the whole thing.

Then I sat down.

The ball, now firmly in the player’s court, I decided to see where they would take this adventure. Maybe this player just needed to paddle about in the kiddie pool for a session.

I’m not sure why the Team Commander changed his tune, at my response. But after a few shell shocked moments he calmed down and responded that we should continue with the fight.

“Are you sure?” the GM asked.

Again, without thinking about it, that player answered in the affirmative! When will they ever learn?

The fight went frightfully well for the players. The Vulture fighters were so outmatched by the two X-Wing and Y-Wing pilots that not only did they not land a single shot on either rebel fighter, but they never got close enough to the C-ROC for it to engage in the battle.

The best that I can figure, as the GM, was that this player had brought some emotional baggage to the RPG table that he should have left in his car.

Fortunately we were able to shake him out of his malaise for the remainder of the session. After the fight, the team did some more investigative digging and learned a lot in game.

Indeed, the fight with the Vulture droids was one of the important clues to the adventure. As a GM who had planned this adventure, I didn’t remove the conflict (really I didn’t). The opposition force was still there. But if the players wanted to tuck tail and run, I figured that would be the best option for that evening.

(And if they thought I was being tough, just wait till next session)!