Friday, August 31, 2012

Fantasy Football, Naval Gunnery, NASA

Greetings! Time for another trip through what’s on my mind these days. These days it’s back to school time for the kids, shopping around for insurance, and finishing up the first draft of my first non-WotC novel. Hopefully I’ll something interesting to report on that front in a few more weeks—we’ll see!

I’m participating in my first Fantasy Football league this year. I’ve played Roto baseball for years and years, but this is my first foray into a new sport. I drew draft position #9 in a 10-player league, which sort of bummed me out a little. But we used a snaking draft, so at least I got picks 9 and 12 out of the first 20, then picks 29 and 32, and so on. I figured out the clever ploy of trying to start a “run” with my second pick in any pair, trying to lessen the pain of that long eighteen picks between my selections. I’m proud to say I managed to start runs on tight ends and defenses—there’s nothing like watching four or five of those picks follow *after* I just made one.

Long and short of it: The Fightin’ Geoducks wound up with Matthew Stafford and Darren McFaddon as my first two picks. Victor Cruz is my top receiver, and I indulged in a couple of “homer” picks with the Eagles defense and receiver Jeremy Maclin. I think I did pretty good overall, although I don’t like my receivers all that much. We’ll see how it goes!

Gaming: I’ve been thinking a little more about Richard Baker’s Naval Game, and what I would do different from Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures. I’m not serious about this quite yet, but I thought I’d share a couple of thoughts about a gunnery system, since I know a few of you War at Sea types follow my blog and might enjoy it.

The AANM system rolls fire volume, accuracy, and armor penetration all together into an overall “effectiveness of fire” roll. That’s pretty simple, but it means that the only real knob you can turn to differentiate between attacks is to give them more or less dice—and increasing the attack dice from Unit A and Unit B might mean that you’re trying to model a ship with more gun barrels, or more accurate guns, or bigger guns with better armor penetration. It doesn’t really let you deal with historical subtleties such as the difficulty 8” heavy cruisers had hitting destroyers, or the fact that a ship mounting fifteen 6” guns didn’t have any advantage in armor penetration over a ship mounting six 6” guns. It would be satisfying to gearheads like me to improve the simulation value of the game by creating a system that accommodated those subtleties. That suggests separating the tests of accuracy and hitting power, and then further differentiating between 4-gun broadsides and 12-gun broadsides of otherwise similar guns.

So, here’s a straightforward way to approach gunnery:

-        Volume of fire is represented by the number of dice you roll

-        Accuracy of attack and difficulty of hitting the target are measured by your hit chance on each die

-        If you score a hit, you test the hitting power of the gun against the armor of the target

Putting a large number of shells in the air should generate more hit chances than a lower number of shells, so reflecting that by rolling more individual attack dice seems like a good start. Some ratio of number of barrels to attack dice would make sense; if Montana threw twice as many attack dice with its 12-gun broadside as Repulse with its 6-gun broadside, that would be intuitive. I don’t think you would want 1 die per barrel, simply because the Boise’s 15-gun broadside is pretty ridiculous at that point, but maybe it would be okay. This approach also lets us model arcs of fire and the advantage of “crossing the T” quite nicely—a ship’s guns don’t become individually less accurate or lose armor penetration when only a few of them bear on a target.

In a perfect world, we’d also roll rate of fire into that fire volume measurement. The Iowa could fire about eighteen 16” rounds per minute, but the Fletcher could fire about a hundred and twenty 5” rounds. Presumably the Fletcher should roll five times as many attack dice as the Iowa to reflect that… but I suspect it wouldn’t be fun to roll buckets of dice for little individual effect. For now, let’s set rate of fire aside, and tell ourselves that we might use a “Low, Average, High ROF” modification of some sort that isn’t a pure mathematical conversion.

Attack accuracy is your chance for any particular attack die to score a hit. There should be two basic measurements here: How accurate the gun is, and how hard to hit the target is. My idea for handling this is pretty simple: Your gun provides you X chances to score a hit, and the target provides you Y chances to score a hit. Add X and Y, and you get a target number for your attack. For example, let’s say a destroyer is target size 1 and a battleship is target size 5. Shoot at the destroyer with an accuracy 2 gun, and you have 3 hit numbers; shoot at the battleship, and you have 7 hit numbers. The die size could be anything we want—a d10 would bias the system toward rapid resolution of gunnery duels, but a d100 would probably be more historically accurate. Let’s say d20 for now, and just see how that works out.

I prefer to encourage people to roll high in games, so we’d actually flip the numbers around: We’d want to create a LOW target number and call it a hit when you roll that number or higher. So we’d rate guns for INACCURACY on a 5 to 10 scale, and targets for EVASIVENESS on a 5 to 10 scale. In this world, a highly accurate gun is a 5, and an easy target is a 5. So shooting at a battleship might be 5 and 5, creating a target number of 10—any roll of 10 or better on a d20 is a hit. Shooting a destroyer with an inaccurate gun might be 10 and 10, creating a target number of 20—you only hit on a roll of 20 on a d20.

Accuracy should drop off with range, so we could probably use a global rule like “–1 penalty to attack rolls number per hex of range,” and it would be pretty reasonable. You could even create “spotting in” systems that give you a “+1 bonus to attack rolls per turn of firing on the same target.”

All right, so we know how to reflect volume of fire and attack accuracy. Each attack die will generate a miss or a hit. Misses we ignore, of course. But each hit can now be tested for its effect on the target. This is where a destroyer gun generally fails against a battleship—it might be comparatively easy to put 5” shells on the target, but they just won’t do much to it. Likewise, one battleship-caliber hit might be enough to wreck a destroyer. Off the top of my head, I think you could something as simple as a damage roll compared to target armor. A destroyer might have a damage roll of 1d4 and an Armor of 2, a battleship might be 4d6 and Armor 10. Damage rolls that are less than the target Armor are ignored. Damage rolls equal to target Armor or higher do “1 box” of damage. Damage rolls that greatly exceed target Armor might do “more than 1 box” of damage, or even have a chance to sink the target outright (the Bismarck vs. the Hood scenario).

I’d like to rate ships for Side Armor and Deck Armor, while we’re at it, and have long-range attacks (and aircraft bombs!) compared to Deck Armor instead of Side Armor. American heavy guns excelled in plunging fire penetration; German and Italian guns tended to be high-velocity and did well in close-range Side penetration. That might be covered with a couple of Special Abilities, like “Heavy Shells, +2 damage at range X and higher” or “Hi-Velocity Guns, +2 damage at range 1 or 2.”

Other than that, I’m afraid I don’t have much worked out in my head about ship durability and effects of damage. I’d like to figure out some way for a destroyer’s hit on a battleship to have a small chance to cause a surprisingly serious problem—say, starting a fire, knocking out a secondary battery, causing a power outage, or something along those lines. It didn’t happen often historically, but it did happen. Maybe I’ll put on my thinking cap and ponder that until my next blog entry.

Politics/Current Events: Neil Armstrong’s passing should serve as a wake-up call for America about the state of our manned space program. It’s not that hard to imagine in 2012 that we might eventually come to the day when there are no living human beings left who walked on the Moon. In 1972, that notion would have been completely unthinkable. NASA has been absolutely floundering for almost twenty years now. We don’t even have the ability to put a man in orbit now, nor are we likely to be able to any time in the next ten years or so. That is absolutely RIDICULOUS. It is a staggering failure of leadership and vision.

NASA’s current budget is about $17 billion per year. Here are a few things the government spends more money on than our space program: The Department of Agriculture gets $27 billion a year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development gets $49.8 billion, and the Department of Education gets $78.9 billion. (Why do we even have a federal Department of Education? ) And that’s not even looking at the immense spending of the Department of Defense (over $737 billion), Medicare ($500 billion), Social Security ($767 billion), or simple interest ($261 billion). How hard would it be to triple NASA’s budget and shave $10 billion apiece off three other agencies or functions? And wouldn’t it be worthwhile to do so?

Make me dictator for a day, and I promise you this: A new orbiter in 5 years, and a return to the Moon in 10 years. The cost is chump change compared to the other things we spend money on.  
The Finer Things: Elvis Costello. I’ve been listening to a lot of his older stuff in the last few days (Punch the Clock, King of America, The Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions). Man, he was a great songwriter back in the day, and I loved the mellow jazz/crooner groove he got into with Burt Bacharach about ten years ago.


  1. I want to play your naval game, Rich. And I want to put you in charge so you can get the space program going again.

    Until then, I'll play the liberal empty chair to your Clint Eastwood and defend that frequent punching bag, the DoE. Why do we have a Department of Education? The biggest line item expenditure for DoE for 2013 and recent past is for Pell Grants, at a third of their budget (23B). Next is more college funding like work study and loans ($10B). Sending poor, smart kids to college seems like a good use of funding to me.

    We can dive into all of the line items if you want. I'm sure it's full of some junk like any government bureaucracy.

  2. Oh I missed on which was the second highest item: $11.6B for direct grant to states for Special Education funding - kids with disabilities.

  3. Rich, I love the thoughts related to the naval game. It's definitely something that I'd be interested in playing. Regarding the rare chance of a destroyer scoring a hit on a battleship could be reflected in a critical hit chance. Each ship could have a % chance of scoring a critical hit in general. If any hit is scored, you determine if one of those hits was a critical one (by rolling the %). Only one critical hit is possible per volley (to keep the game moving). On a critical hit, 1 box would be removed regardless of the damage die total. If the damage die would have beat the armor value anyway, take a 2nd box.

    If you assign each caliber gun to a die value vs ship type/armor type. Each hit from any individual gun would resolve independently of other barrels/turrets. In this way, you could 'vital' a ship by hitting with enough barrels to knock out all of the 'boxes' of the other ship. This could also be aided by giving extra credit to hits whose damage exceeds the armor value to 'x' amount as far as 'box credit' is concerned.

  4. You could do a tactic card deck that provides random additional damage effects. The cards could even signify what part of the ship you hit and act as a damage marker you simple slip under the damaged ship, but leave the part with the game text showing. It would be like adding negative SAs to the existing ship card. Some of the more extreme ones my not even take away a hull point, but instead decrease speed (even to zero and then you have to roll maybe a 6 to restore it, which represents the crew fixing it, which they may never get to even do), reduce armor or provide other detrimental effects like a damaged turret or loss of anti-air guns. A bridge shot could remove it's flag rating, but would be relatively harmless to a ship without one, save for the that fact that it would still lose a hull point.
    If the damage cards had a 'point cost' and you were required to have X amount minimum of cards and Y amount maximum of points worth of cards, you could stop people from stacking the deck with too many heavy hitting tactic cards. So the effectiveness of the damage card represents it's point value. Some might even take two hull points, but be REALLY expensive.

    Some destroyers could simply download a certain tactic card once per game or once per turn. So your destroyer might have an SA that allows it to download the Bridge Shot tactic card onto a battleship it just fired on even if it misses (so long as that ship doesn't have one on it already).
    They did something similar in the Star Trek CCG First Edition, the damage/tactic cards I mean. So this isn't an original idea, but it would add alot of depth and flavor to a naval wargame.

  5. Hi Rich, I remember that you once mentioned that you would have liked Birthright domain rules to be a bit differemt. Could ypu please mention how those changes would be? And would it be possible for you to mention ideas and plans for Birthriht that you would have liked to be published or that you have used in your home campaigns? I find Birthright as my faorite setting alongside Eberron, so congratulations and thanks for creating it!

  6. Hey, Eck, nice to see you, so to speak --

    I'd agree those are good programs (although the originalist in me thinks that sort of thing could be handled by the states). I just think we could consolidate the important DoE programs under, say, Health and Human Services.

  7. One of the ideas I had was that ANY hit might have a chance to start a fire, whether it penetrates armor or not. In a more robust damage system, ongoing fires might have a chance to damage a heavy ship in a way that a direct hit from a destroyer gun couldn't.

    I used to like the damage system in Avalon Hill's Jutland game--the damage boxes actually represented the main battery, so as you checked them off, the ship's firepower declined too. It's reasonably accurate, since when you read about WW2 gun battles you read about "turret X was knocked out" as the fight goes on. That's definitely getting a lot more complicated than the AANM system, but might be fun for the real gearheads out there.

  8. Nicolas, that's a great idea for a more serious discussion on my blog at some point. I'll put it on my to-do list.

    (One of my hangups is the fact that wizards draw power from unspoiled lands. It really overlapped wizards with druids.)

  9. Ooooh - Birthright; maybe my favourite D&D world (the other contender being PlaneScape). Ideas on how to do BR in 4e would be awesome, I think. I have a few thoughts, but too little time to flesh them out.

    On naval wargames: possibly the most fun I have had with a wargame was with the Fletcher Pratt rules, modified for the fact that we didn't have a ballroom to play in! WAS miniatures work beautifully for this, too. For those who haven't come accross them, the Fletcher Pratt rules were written in the '30s and '40s and involve laying down cardboard arrows with a range (in inches) noted on them to fire. An umpire (or another player) then measures out your fall of shot with a tape measure, marking misses with white golf tees and hits with balls of cotton wool dyed orange and black. Simple, quick, effective and fun!