Design Journal 8: Orientation, Abstract Combat and Ship Attributes

Continuing in my little series where I talk about specific cool things in the Parsec system, I turn to orientation, abstract combat and ship attributes. These three are crammed together because they are all somewhat connected and I think I can talk about each without taking up too much space.


I’m sure other space-combat systems have something like this, but orientation is the system for figuring out what part of my ship is facing what part of your ship. This is to make it easier to target specific parts of a ship – say, the engines or the command deck – and also to bring to bear particular weapon systems on your own ship which are only oriented to be able to fire from a certain position.

As far as the rules are concerned, every object in space is a cube, and each of the six sides corresponds to a particular surface of the ship. In game, you can even use a d6 to represent your ships’ orientation if you don’t want to revert to expensive models and miniatures. For the names of each side, I went with some nautical terms and some physiological ones – the face, dorsal, ventral, starboard, port and rear surfaces are the terms I’m using for now.

In 3D zero-G combat, its almost impossible to represent what’s going on on a 2D surface like your gaming table. Instead, you make maneuvering checks and based on the result, you can determine which side of your target is facing which side of your own ship. At the very least, you can move things to a more favorable position. I think that this system is a simple way to avoid having to keep track of 3D maneuvering on a 2D battle map. All the map is needed for (if you’re using it at all) is to determine relative distance between objects. The assumption is always that they are moving dramatically through three dimensions throughout the combat.

Abstract Combat

This is in contrast to what is more common, which in Parsec I just call Tactical Combat – that is, combat involving a battle map, moving a particular number of hexes per turn, finding lines of sight and determining cover, and so on.

Abstract combat relies on the gaming group to supply the dramatic details of what exactly is going on, or how maneuvers look in the game-world. For example, if an opponent is behind cover and you can’t get a shot at them, you can take what is called a “long maneuver” to move to a new position from which you can fire on your target with less obstruction. Depending on how well your roll for the long maneuver goes, you will find yourself in a better or worse position at the end of the round.

Of course, while you’re moving you can also be targeted, and the new position may or may not have good cover for you to hide behind. Rather than letting this be determined by objects on a battle map, these details are just determined abstractly by dice-rolls and narrated out during the resolution phase.

Ship Attributes

In Parsec, ships have the same attributes that characters have – Power, Precision, Mobility, Connection, Appeal and Resilience. I always got frustrated by systems that made you learn an entirely new set of rules and whatnot for vehicle and spaceship combat. To get around this, I came up with attributes that thoroughly described a person and also described a ship. This means that all of the connections between characters and ships are much more logical and really, both function with essentially the same system. Quicker to learn, quicker to use and to adapt in a game.

I also like the idea that in a setting where, depending on what kind of game it is, a lot of time could be spent aboard a ship, I liked the idea that different ships are like different characters, having some of their own personality. This is reinforced by the fact that both characters and ships use a lifepath-type system to build their backgrounds before the game begins. Again, its another take on the idea of ships and people functioning by the same basic set of rules.

Next time, the final installment on (the) Initiative, as well as some of what’s next.

2 thoughts on “Design Journal 8: Orientation, Abstract Combat and Ship Attributes

  1. I love that ships also use a lifepath system. It seems like a great way to ensure they have personality, literally making the ship into a character. awesome.

    In principal you know I'm in favor of abstract combat as well, but I'd like to know what you mean by letting the dice determine things like cover. Generally I'm not in favor of letting the dice determine things. I'd prefer it just to be based on narration – did the GM say there was cover nearby? No. Then no defense bonus.


  2. I haven't gotten into detail yet in the system about how to handle the Situation of a combat exactly. Probably during Orientation (the first stage of combat), when you're narrating the situation before shots are fired, there will be some system for defining how much cover is out there and things like that. Then that'll probably provide a target number of successes to get behind the cover, as well as which kinds of cover there are (absorbing or obscuring). What the dice determine is what happens based on the situation, not what the situation is. I might do that for another game, but not for this kind of game…


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