Thursday, March 9, 2017

Spaceships Quickie: Surviable Spaceships

After replying to this post where I mulled over how hard it is to make an armored ship in Spaceships it got the old think box ah' turning about some ways to make ships a little more survivable.

One criticism that is often leveled at the GURPS Spaceships is that ships made with its system are basically "eggshells with sledgehammers".  That it's impossible to make a warship that's worth it. Now there are those who feel that this is just a reflection of reality, one shot one kill after all, and to a degree they are right but real life combat is seldom that simple. In 1987 the Oliver Hazard Perry class Guided Missile Frigate USS Stark was stuck by two Exocet anti-shipping missile and while heavily damaged was make sea worthy again after a couple of repairs made by a nearby destroyer tender. The Oliver Hazard Perry class is hardly what anyone would call armored and a very small ship by modern standards and yet it showed that one shot, one kill is still a hard thing to pull off. That's not to say modern weapons are brutal and that the anti-shipping missile that our space cruisers of the future will sling aren't going to be down right terrifying, but ships do go down perhaps a bit too quickly.

So then, how do we make it so that ships made with GURPS Spaceships a little more survivable?

Well, the truth is we're never going to get a system that fully works so long as we are using a Hit Point based system. Things do not take damage in a liner manner. Even if 10 punches might have the total energy of a 9mm bullet, that doesn't mean 10 punches will do the same amount of damage! Yes, if you land enough blows in a short enough amount of time you will do as much damage but it might take fifty or even a hundred blows!  Even the Harpoon series of war games, the most realistic naval simulators on the civilian market, has to constantly rethink their hit point equation since it keeps finding that ships at certain break points keep either being too survivable or not survivable enough! Though this fix is a little beyond the scope of this post and would take a total reworking of how GURPS works to fix... so maybe I'll tackle this one at a later date.

Despite this, there are two fixes that we can do. In real life, just because two ships have the same tonnage it doesn't mean they'll both be equally susceptible to damage. While they will probably be in the same ball park, it is possible to design a ship to be more survivable by adding more bulkheads, reinforcing seams and joints and other factors. This is why naval warships, even if not "armored" by modern standards, can survive a few hits and still keep fighting.

The other fix that is used is the idea of armor belts. Rather then trying to cover the whole ship in the heaviest armor, ship designers would just up armor critical areas.

Also another issues is that you're not giving a lot of armor options for anyone TL and for most ultra-tech armor what is listed is that TL's equivalent to mild steel. A quick fix here is for parts of the ship that needs better protection just use armor 1TL higher to represent higher but more extensive grades of armor that would available.

This all being said, here are two options that takes these concepts and applies them to the Spaceships design system. 

New Spacecraft System Option 
Structural Reinforcement (TL1) [Hull]
By reinforcing the ships hull, adding more bulk heads and shock mitigation factors a vessel can be made more resilient to battle damage. A ship can have up to three Structural Reinforcement systems, one in each hull section. The first Structural Reinforcement system increases the ships dHP by 15%, the second by 30% and the third by 60%.  Any hull section that has a Structural Reinforcement system is counted as remaining sealed if any of the other sections of the ship are breached[1].  If three systems are installed, besides giving the max increase of 60% to the ships dHP, the extra reinforcement also make the vessel more resistant to long term stress giving it +1HT.

Structural Reinforcement Table
SM        +4     +5     +6      +7     +8        +9       +10    +11   +12     +13     +14      +15
Cost      2K     6K    20K   60K   200K   600K    2M    6M   20M    60M    200M  600M      
Repair Skill: Mechanic (Vehicle Type)  

New Design Feature 
Belt Armor
Very few real world warships that were considered armored had the best or heaviest armor covering the whole ship. This was far too costly and would add too much weight. Instead they would only cover both the likely place shots would land as well as the most critical areas of the ship with "belts" of thicker and usually higher grade armor. This way ship had a good chance of surviving without being over burden or too costly but this also meant that lucky shots could still get through.

If using this design feature buy any system of armor as normal. It will still takes up a system space but instead of covering a given section of the ship entirely, you get six belts of armor. You can then choose which systems to place these belts on and can place any number of them on any one system (up a max of 6 per belt armor system you have placed) you want with each belt giving their full dDR per belt placed. However the dDR will only offer protection if the belt covered system is hit. Each belt placed also counts as an extra system for providing extra PF against radiation (see Spaceships 5: Exploration and Colony Spacecraft pg. 41).

Example: Let's say that your front hull of your unstreamlined SM+10 TL10 space cruiser has one system of  Nanocomposite giving dDR50 [1], a Advanced Tactical Array [2], two Habitats [3-4], a Command Room [5], and decide to give location [6] another Nanocomposite armor system but with the belt option. 

The whole front system already has dDR50 and now has 6 extra belts that can placed with each also giving an extra dDR50. You figure it's best to cover were the crew is going to be so you place two belts on each Habitat and the last two belts on the Command Room giving them each dDR150 or three times as much armor as the systems not covered by belts. However if sections [1], [2], or [6] are hit in combat only the base dDR50 protects the ship but if sections [3], [4], or [5] are hit they are protected at dDR150. For protection against radiation the Habitats and Command Room are each covered by the Nanocomposite armor system, the Advanced Tactical Array and two Armor Belts for a total of 4 non-core systems protecting them giving them each a PF of 400. If  an normal Nanocomposite armor system was used instead of the belt armor then only three systems would cover them for a PF of only 300. A crewman inside the Advanced Tactical Array however would only have the Nanocomposite armor system covering them giving them only PF 100. 

[1]Thanks to Refplace from over on the GURPS forum for suggesting this!


  1. I like it. Especially the Belt armor option.

    1. Thank ya. I'm actually surprised that something like my belt armor option never made it into the actual books.

  2. The belt armour option is a good one, and I like the structural renforcement. Of course a lot of this is making me think fondly about GURPS Vehicles again, despite all it's issues (where you could do all of these tricks).

    The counter to this is when I remember it takes me 10 minutes to build a ship in Spaceships as opposed to how long it takes with the old Vehicles system (I wish I could get that program working again).

    1. Yeah, there's always going to be some trade off. Vehicles is good if the vehicle your are designing is going to be important and your players are going to want to upgrade it or just go over ever square foot of it with a fine tooth comb.

      On the otherhand, if you just need a rocket to get from point A to point B or a ship that's pretty much going to act as a mobile HQ then Spaceships gives you a nice detail to time it takes to build ratio.

      For me, unless its something meant as a background ship, I just use it to get a rough idea for a ship design before I fully flesh it out in more detail.

  3. Yeah, Eric's structural reinforcement system from his Spaships spreadsheet is a good start but yiu should really consider simply giving ships IT:DR 2 as per the suggestion in Spacships 3. This will let any spaceship survive up to 12 hits on average from a weapon of its own size and TL, given 2 armor systems. This isnt an unreasonable requirement, given most battleships and their ilk in the Spaceships series already do this.

    Now if your issue is that Spaceships doesn't emulate the specific genre you want to play, that is a totally different issue from "I want ships to survive longer", and tk that end, you should address the entire situation more wholisticly. If you want WWII in Space, consider what made WWII battles feel like they did. It wasnt ships staying afloat when they got hit by torpedoes - ships rarely sustained many direct hits before going down, and those that did were sufficiently licky to count as minimum damage rolls. If you want cold war submarine warfare, thats different, too. If you want grecoroman naval battles with rams and boarding actions, that is different as well. None of these are solved by slapping extra HP or localized armor on a ship.

    All that said, Rory's idea for belt armor is a nice addition and goves a little more flexibility to a system that usually feels hamfisted to me.