BITS – Ships

BITS – the roleplaying game system – is all about themes. Carrying off of last week’s theme of groups in BITS, I’ve been able to think awhile on how different kinds of actors in BITS work together.

So today: How ship-sized vehicles in space and on the water interact with each other.

How Ships Work

Ships have a threat tier that indicates their size:

0 – Fighters, boats.
1 – Corvettes, frigates.
2 – Destroyers, cruisers.
3 – Battleships, carriers.
4 – Dreadnoughts, city-ships.

When acting as a ship, add the ship’s tier to a 2D6 roll (or appropriate BITS value, if so inclined!). When acting against a ship, roll higher than that ship’s threat tier. For example, a tier 3 battleship acting against a tier 2 destroyer must roll 9 or more (threat tier 2) with 2D6 and may add 3 to the roll.

Tiers also show how many extra smaller actions the ship may take. These smaller actions may be either defensive or of more minor consequence. (I’m still ironing out the value of different kinds of actions.)

A ship may hold inside it smaller ships that are 2 threat tiers below it, and/or multiple groups of ships 3 or more tiers below. For example, a tier 3 carrier may hold 1 tier 1 corvette and/or multiple groups of tier 0 fighters.

A ship otherwise behaves as any other fictional Being in BITS. (This includes the use of Body as a hull and engine, Interaction as a sensory and communications capability, Thought as targeting and computation, and Specialty for whatever role the ship is fitted out to do!)

Tier Examples

Tier 0 fighters and boats exist only as groups when interacting with higher-tier ships. Tier 0 can be subdivided into interceptors, bombers, dropships, and others. Subdivisions of tier 0 ships are differentiated with simple rules.

For example, a Star Wars X-Wing would be a heavy fighter with critical roles against single ships automatically destroys the other ship (representing a proton torpedo exploding). A Gundam Ball is incredibly cheap, but cannot travel without a carrier though is useful for ship repair. A Chinook helicopter serving with the United States Navy is slow, but can carry supplies, a platoon of troops, or gunship weapons.

Tier 1 ships include dedicated troop carriers, freighters, and smaller warships. Individual capabilities are defined per ship, such as being able to travel between worlds or systems.

For example, the Star Wars Millennium Falcon is a very fast cargo freighter. Expanse‘s Rocinante packs freight, troops, and torpedoes with high maneuverability (and fits into the Donnager tier 3 battleship!).

Tier 2 destroyers and cruisers can carry a boat or small fighter group to support operations. Ships called “cruisers” (Star Trek Romulan D’deridex) and “destroyers” (Star Wars Star Destroyer) are often tier 3 battleships and carriers in their abilities.

For example, a USN destroyer may have a vulcan cannon to have advantage defending against missiles and fighters while having a mine-laying helicopter. Star Trek Galor cruisers have a large forward cannon, multiple weapon arrays, and high speed, but can be taken out by swarms of fighters or beefier battleships.

Tier 3 represents the battleships, carriers, and hybrids that bring the largest hurt and the largest number of forces to play.

For example, the Imperial Japan Yamamoto battleship had defensive and offensive advantage against any other ship on the water. The Star Wars Star Destroyer could field squadrons of tier 0 TIE fighters, capture a tier 1 Tantive IV blockade runner, land an army of troops and supplies, and bring massive guns to bare. Many Star Trek variants of the Enterprise flagship were on-par with battleships, fielding multiple torpedo launchers, heavy shields and armor, and even fighters and personnel shuttles.

Tier 4 ships are awe-inspiring, all-commanding giants. For the most part unassailable, tier 4 ships get to do what they want to do until a lucky action halts their progress.

For example, Star Wars has the Executor dreadnought that only by a lucky suicide and very poor design was brought down. The Expanse has the literal Behemoth city-/generation-/flag-ship capable of holding a fleet inside it. Star Trek brings to mind Borg Cubes that single-handedly can wipe out armadas. Even the universe of Frank Herbert’s Dune has Heighliners as the only mega-vehicles capable of interstellar travel, taking entire planetary populations from place to place.

Bonus Topic: Stations

Space stations or naval dockyards work the same way as the ships they house. Stations use similar groupings:

0 – Buoy, small communications satellite, mine, sounding station.
1 – A station with limited docking and housing capabilities. The International Space Station.
2 – A regional yard or asteroid base. Halo‘s orbital defense platforms can handle cruiser-sized craft but none larger.
3 – A strategic hub of resupply and production of battleship-tier craft. Deep Space 9 from Star Trek caters to multiple battleships and support vessels. Stargate Atlantis has Atlantis, which may count as a tier 4 station (there’s some techno-magic that makes classification fuzzy).
4 – A massive complex meant to be bringing forth armadas and entire fleets. Star Trek‘s Spacedock 1, Halo‘s High Charity, USN Norfolk Base.

A station may hold ships that have the same threat tier or below whether constructing or docking the ship. The station may or may not have defensive or offensive means. If so, the station uses its threat tier for resolutions.

For example, a tier 0 listening post may detect ships approaching a tier 1 science station orbiting a moon. Tier 2 defense platforms may open fire and release a compliment of fighters so that a tier 3 space dock can muster battleships and carriers to fight. When all else fails, a distress signal summons reinforcements from the fleet HQ, a tier 4 mega-station.

Thought Behind Design

Inspired by shows like The Expanse and of course movies like Star Wars, I began to see patterns in how the large vehicles known as “ship” were treated in fiction (a class their own; another post later about vehicles later).

After experimenting with carriers (ships carrying smaller ships) and threat tiers, I am struck by how tightly the BITS treatment of ships above fits into naval considerations. From the real-world United States Navy, to modern space flight, to hard sci-fi in The Expanse, to the fantasies of Star Trek and Star Wars, a 0 to 4 threat tier system where some ships carry other ships seems to work really, really well!

So that’s the thought behind: Keep with the mechanics found throughout BITS, allow for all the classic naval designations, and thematically represent ships regardless of “universe” or IP they exist in.

Ready to play some BITS? I know I am 😁

Now to get these manuals taken care of and updated to 2021 standards!

What do you suggest for putting rulebooks together? What holes are there to sink this handling of ships? Let me know! Cheers to your gameplay ~

BITS – Groups

Back on BITS!

(A reminder: BITS is a proprietary Body-Interaction-Thought-Specialty game system for tabletop roleplaying games.)

This time, I’ve been thinking awhile on how to handle large groups. Since humans can only track about seven different things at a time, I thought it best to figure out how to make anything more than a small gathering feasible.

Solution

Members of a group have similar capabilities. Everything they do, they do together and at the same time.

Groups have a rating that indicates their size.

0 – An individual. Does not use group size.
1 – A gang or squad of ~10 or fewer individuals
2 – A company, century, or mob, ~100
3 – A demi-legion or town, ~1000
4 – An army or division, ~10k

Ratings also show how many extra actions the group may take.

When a group acts against another group, that action has advantage or disadvantage if the acted-against group is smaller or larger (respectively). For example, an individual 0 is always at a disadvantage when acting against a group 1+.

Certain actions committed by a group may have disadvantage or not be available at all. For example, a group would have disadvantage on being sneaky, or having a 10k army fit into a Manhattan apartment.

To resolve an action by or against a group, the threat tier of an individual member of the group. Different threat tiers should be grouped separately from each other.

A group has a state of health like any individual Being. However, when a group reaches 0 for their state, they break up into D6 (a dice roll of 1 to 6) of the next smallest group. That means a rating 4 10k group at 0 state breaks up into 1 to 6 rating 3 1000-member groups.

As a choice, when a group reaches 0 for state and breaks up into smaller groups, a second D6 may be rolled to give the new group a state 1 to 6 to represent the harm already taken.

Thought Behind

BITS is all about keeping things simple yet deep in what it can be used for. The system attempts to address a lot of the problems other systems run into, and handling large groups (“mobs”) has always been a sore point.

With the BITS use of groups, everything from street fights to clashing armies can happen with a solid dynamic between all engaged. Since BITS also handles social conflicts with the same mechanics as physical violence, inciting mobs or inspiring a legion can be accomplished with the group mechanics here.

It came to my attention that perhaps an individual shouldn’t be able to face down an army of 10K. But then I remembered the brutally brilliant (and violent) “Crazy 88’s” fight in Kill Bill – the player, as hero, ought to be able to have a try at beating the odds 😉

And that’s how BITS handles groups!

Will be sharing more BITS content over the next few weeks, including revisiting some sub-par implementations of the past.

If you’ve ideas on groups, share ’em! In the meantime, cheers to your play ~

BITS – Starcraft

This is Jimmy.

Jim Raynor

Greetings! Taking a break from heavier topics to write something light: A game!

Not just any game, but a roleplaying game set in Activision Blizzard’s Starcraft universe driven by my very own BITS engine. (Of course to note: I own no stake in the Starcraft IP owned solely by Activision Blizzard, nor to I may any claim on the IP. The following is personally for education and publicly for entertainment purposes only.)

This came to me over the course of two afternoon hours, cleaned up and expanded here for you! As a modest, very prototype design of a famous IP, it ought to serve to highlight how to bring a real-time computer strategy game to the role-playing world.

Tough talk, Jimmy, but I don’t think you have what it takes to be a killer.

Kerrigan, Queen of Blades

Who the Characters Are

Awaken, my child, and embrace the glory that is your birthright. Know that I am the Overmind, the eternal will of the Swarm, and that you have been created to serve me.

Overmind

Players take on the roles of the units available to a faction in Starcraft: the haughty Protoss, the ravenous Zerg, or the troubled Terrans.

Any character is a standard unit in the game that then may play alongside GM-controlled hero characters. “Standard” means the player starts in an early tier unit, someone not the weakest (unless compensated accordingly), but certainly leaving room for growth.

Starting units come in tiers. Within the tier roles, each character comes with or chooses their own gear and specialties. Not all factions start in the same tiers. A shortlist of examples:

    • Terrans – Either a regular human or a robot.
      • Tier 0 – Space Construction Vehicle (SCV) operator, equipped with an exo-suit that is really bad at combat, but can breakdown structures, repair machines, and build anything anywhere given enough time and materiel.
      • Tier 1 – Marine, armed with powerful rifle and powered armor, though is unable to pilot vehicles.
    • Zerg – A spawned monster of leathery wings or chitinous hide.
      • Tier 0 – Zergling, a nasty creature of teeth and claws that travels with other Zerglings due to their minor stature.
      • Tier 1 – A slithering Hydralisk, armed with massive scythes and spewed barbs, but is a slow target.
    • Protoss – Either a psychically attuned alien or their AI servants.
      • Tier 1 – Zealot, the frontline warrior armed with energy fields and two psychically-powered forearm blades.
      • Tier 2 – Dragoon assault walker pilot, trapped inside a metal shell bearing a massive photon cannon.

There are gives-and-takes for each selection: Slow but powerful, restricted in capability but excelling in what can be done, etc. Choosing both opens and closes options to get things done while on missions.

What Characters Do

I do this for Aiur.

Zeratul

Players take their characters on missions, either as one-offs or as part of a larger campaign with the consequences of previous actions influencing future contexts. Every mission has a single environment the characters operate in with a clear goal.

Different obstacles prevent accomplishing the mission goal. They range from sneaky sabotage to ruthless assault to cautious evacuation to stalwart defense against armies. How these things get accomplished is up to the players and what their characters are capable of doing.

A character can do things in relation to what tier they are. To execute an action that has a moderate amount of difficulty, a player must role at or above the difficulty level with two six-sided dice. The player then may add the applicable BITS value of their character to the action.

An example:

    • A Terran Marine character wants to shoot a Zergling before the ‘ling can get close enough to attack. The Zergling is Tier 0 which equals a difficulty of 7+ to do anything against them. The Marine must roll 7 or above. To help the Marine, they may add their BITS value of Interaction 1 (this value applies to shooting actions) to the roll.
    • The Marine rolls a 4. Even with 1 added, the Marine fails their action. The Zergling is now close enough to attack the Marine with sharp claws. The Marine is Tier 1, so the ‘ling requires a roll of 9+. The Zergling has a Body BITS of 2 that they can add to their physical action. Rolling a 7, the ‘ling adds 2, barely getting the 9 needed to carve into the Marine’s armor.

How and Why to Improve Characters

You must construct additional pylons.

Advisor

Characters ‘level-up’ when they try to do things and fail but survive. When a level-up happens, between missions, a player may choose any number of upgrades for their character that improve how the character operates. Players may also choose to re-equip their character into a new specialty.

Upgrades allow characters to succeed more often and survive at the cost of failing less, therefore slowing down how many upgrades are gained. Characters also receive rewards for accomplishing their missions. Better gear, more allies, stashes of materials, or other tactical or strategic advantage become available for use.

Any upgrade from the Starcraft video games can be used, though customization is encouraged. Example:

    • A Terran Marine doesn’t have the ability to lay mines in Starcraft, but in this roleplaying game, they may come to carry one on their back every mission.
    • A Zergling can use in-game upgrades to become faster (Metabolic Boost), jump higher (Raptor Strain), and attack multiple times at once (Adrenal Glands).
    • A Zealot can improve their recharging shield, but might also customize themselves to shoot psychic blasts or hover off the ground. 

With better gear, players may expand from their starting roles into more advanced roles and tiers. A Terran moves from combat armor to driving a powerful Siege Tank or flying a nimble Wraith Fighter. A Protoss warrior studies to become a Corsair or a hyper-powerful Archon. Zerg evolve into bat-like, acid-spitting Mutalisks or vile, contagious Defilers. These and more are the outcomes for courageous players.

Four Example Missions

I hunger for battle…

Fenix

Players choose characters and gear together. For ease of play, they all pick from the same faction. There are few decisions to be made in selecting a character at the beginning (name, gender, role, gear), so they begin the first mission right away.

Mission 1: Escape the Base

Nuclear launch detected.

Adjutant

The GM details the environment, what has happened up the the present moment, and what is happening. The GM does this at the start of every mission.

The characters must escape a base that is being attacked and overrun. There are multiple routes out of the base (aircraft, ground transports), but also non-player characters (NPCs) that could help as well as communications equipment that could call for help.

Tier 0 enemies are everywhere with a few Tier 1 challenges. Whichever route the players choose, a Tier 2 ‘boss’ must be overcome for the characters to escape. A Tier 4 ‘super’ enemy destroys the base behind the characters.

After the mission, the players take note of what they took from the base and any upgrades they have available.

Mission 2: Steal the Keys

I have returned.

Dragoon

The characters are stranded unless they get the encryption keys to a spaceship. The keys are kept in a well-guarded base that doesn’t know the characters are nearby.

There are multiple routes into and through the base, as well as different styles of play available: Sneak through the base to avoid Tier 0 and 1 patrols, direct assault at the front gate, cause a distraction outside the base, or disguise as part of the base’s inhabitants.

Whichever rout the players choose, they must escape the base with the keys.

After the mission, a player decides to change their character role based off of what happened in the mission.

Mission 3: To the Victor

(harse growl)

Kerrigan, Queen of Blades

The characters must secure a spaceship for themselves. The spaceship is on a space station. The characters are already on the station when an enemy raiding party attacks.

Battles happen throughout the station. There are multiple ways to get to the spaceship: Fight anyone encountered, run through any firefights, or sneak through the conflict. Extra rewards are on the station but are also where the heaviest enemy presence is.

Whichever route the players choose, they must make it to a spaceship and fly away.

A player character died during the mission. That player then chooses a new character to join the surviving characters, coming up with a plausible reason why that character is joining.

Mission 4: Space Race

Carrier has arrived.

Carrier

The characters must use their spaceship to defeat other spaceships to save evacuees from the invasion started in the first mission. NPCs are available to help with their own space fighters and ships, but need the direction of the characters.

Players may choose to fly fighters, operate spaceship cannons, coordinate friendly spaceships, board the enemy, or fight off boarders.

Whichever route the players choose, Tier 3 and 4 enemies are frequent. Before the mission succeeds, an enemy hero must be overcome as a final ‘boss.’

After the mission, players upgrade their characters. The NPCs who have joined as allies and rewards collected help the players decide what their next mission will be.

Tiers

Power overwhelming!

Archon

A partial list of units in their tiers per faction. BITS stats are given more or less in proportion to the tier of the unit.

TerranZergProtoss
T0:SCV, CivilianDrone, ZerglingObserver, Interceptor
T1:Marine, MedicHydralisk, ScourgeProbe, Zealot
T2:Vulture, GoliathMutalisk, QueenDragoon, Corsair
T3:Frigate, Siege TankOverlord, GuardianScout, Templar
T4:Battlecruiser, GhostUltralisk, DefilerArchon, Carrier
Heroes:General DukeBrood CerebrateFleet Arbiter
Sample Unit Tiers

The tiers ought to be altered to better reflect the “technology trees”

Dev Notes

We sense a soul in search of answers.

Arbiter

Actions have abstract ranges of effect. Some actions require a minimum distance, but all cap at a maximum distance. The types of distance include Melee (hand-to-hand), Close (line-of-sight shooting), Long (sniping), and Far (indirect). Other games present systems of abstract distances that can be adapted here.

The quantity of effect an action has is by default 1 for accomplishing the action. 1 additional quantity is added for each number rolled above the minimum challenge required for the action to succeed. Some equipment or actions have a higher default quantity (e.g. a Siege Tank would have more effect in shooting than a Marine’s rifle). Some actions are lower (e.g. a human fighting with only their un-augmented body is 0).

To iron-out absurdities such as a Marine (Tier 1) shooting down a Battlecruiser (Tier 4), a unit may only interact with one and only one tier above that unit or below. Two or more tiers above a unit’s tier cannot be interacted with in a harmful manner by that unit. If an action affects a tier above, the action is at disadvantage (i.e. the highest die in a roll changes to be the lowest die). If an action affects a tier below, the action is at advantage (i.e. the lowest die in a roll changes to be the highest die).

There are more high-tier Protoss units than Terran, but Protoss are fewer in number. There are more Zerg units than Terran, but Zerg are lower tier.

Terran (2 units)Zerg (4 units)Protoss (1 unit)
T0:10%30%10%
T1:30%30%20%
T2:30%20%40%
T3:20%10%20%
T4:10%10%10%
Frequency of Tiers and Units (the math isn’t balanced [yet])

The merging is complete.

Archon

And there it is! My brainstorm that leveraged inspiration when inspiration hit.

I hope you like it! This would be a prototype if played. With the BITS ruleset and the prebuilt Starcraft universe, a game could be played, and that’s what really matters!

What have you been playing? Care to give this a shot? The ruleset here will get you well on your way to enjoying your own space adventure! Cheers!