Thursday, February 7, 2019

More on Space Combat - The Select Programs

"The drive signature looks familiar - like a Suleiman-class scout . . . "

The 'Selective' group of Offensive programs have long confused me as to how the results should be applied. I have just now noted the following text from Starter Traveller Rules booklet, page 41. It does not appear in Book 2 (1977) but it does in The Traveller Book, on page 77. I've just never noticed it before. As I have stated elsewhere, TTB is my rules book of reference for my games.
"If a Select program is being used to influence attacks, the firing player rolls one die for each hit inflicted. On a 1 or 2, he picks the hit location, specifying one of the following: Maneuver drive, Power Plant, Jump drive, fuel, hull, hold, computer or turret. If the roll is 3+ roll hit location normally."
I have written before about how I see Classic Traveller starship combat as a Resource Management Game. This program is a great example of what I mean.

There are three levels of Select program available:
  • Select 1: allows the choice of targets, but at a -2 to hit at all.
  • Select 2: allows the choice of targets, but at a -1 to hit at all.
  • Select 3: allows the choice of targets with no penalty to hit.
The base "to Hit" number for space combat is 8+. This is, all other factors aside, equivalent to a 42% probability of a hit. Less than half. Select One changes this 10+, or 17% probability. That's 25% less likely to hit. Select Two changes the base to 28%, a loss of 14%.

And Then, as if that weren't bad enough, it doesn't always work. Even on a successful hit at these reduced odds, there is still only a 1 in 3 chance that the Select program will hit where you want it to. Otherwise you roll the dice and take your chances. With S1, then, your odds of hitting what you want to hit are:
0.17 X 0.33, or 0.0561. That's 51/2% probability of getting to choose where your hit lands. You might still get lucky and hit 'that spot' but at least you hit somewhere.

The cheapest of these programs is 500,000 credits. The 'good' one costs 1,000,00 credits. Why would a group of PCs in their Type S or Type A want to spend the coin on these programs?
Turret Two is Cleared and Hot. Engage Bogey Four!

Because of the BIG tactical flexibility this give them. If you are being chased by pirates, don't stop and fight, run for the Jump Limit while targeting their M-drive. Get a few hits in a row, and the pirates lose the contest of acceleration. Do you want to strand someone in this system for a while? Target the fuel tanks or the Jump drive. Want to take the ship without Megacreds of damage? Target the computer & knock it out.

The Select program brings another element of role-playing into the combat. Instead of combat as a simple smash-job, what is the purpose of the encounter? What do the players want to get out of it? Pick the right tool for the job, they say. Pick the right tactical option in the fight to get you the outcome you want. The Select programs are among the easier ones to write, or have someone write for you.

Starting now, all military ships of the Talaveran Empire will come with Select-3 loaded. As a High-Tech navy, they have the computing power to spare.

By the way, have you read Michael Thompson's Big Computers No Problem post yet?  A great defense of Traveller's much maligned computer rules and why they take up so much space. The Traveller Adventures Blog is listed in my perma-links to the right. Read his stuff!


  1. Interesting post, and thanks for the link!

  2. Interesting the 1981 description of Selective mentions the 1/3 chance and matches with the text on TTB p.77, but the description of Selective on TTB p.70 is almost the same as 1981...

    These differences have been highlighted in my section by section comparison.

  3. Another great column, Mr. Weaver, and a nice shout out to a great post at another great blog.

    People dropped Classic's computer programming rules from ship combat for many reasons. In the beginning, most of those reasons had to do with the rules being too boring or too fiddly. After a while, claims that the game's computer rules and sizes weren't realistic replaced those reasons with an all purpose excuse. (Mr. Weaver's column is the latest and one of the best example refutations of that excuse; i.e. No, ship computers are NOT your laptop or tablet.)

    My early groups were war gamers as much as they were role players and so loved Classic's computer rules. They studied the programs and their various benefits looking for an edge in combat often surprising me with their inventiveness. They developed what they called programming "chains", that is a progression of programs changed over a few combat turns which would force an opponent into a specific action or choice. They had one "chain" that I can't quite remember which allowed a patrol cruiser to "fork" a Vargr corsair into choosing between two almost equally poor options. That tactic, which was entirely due to computer rules, was so good that I had to use multiple corsairs against them in order to provide any challenge.

    They referred to the Select program, specifically Select-3, as the program which separated the "men" (military) from the "boys" (civilian/paramilitary). It wasn't the cost of the program. Instead it was the CPU size needed to run it in the laser fire, return fire, or ordnance launch phases and the storage size needed to store it during the rest of the turn. Once "Must Have" programs like Maneuver, Target, Anti-Missile, or Launch were loaded, few of Classic's ships had the CPU or storage space for "luxuries" like Maneuver/Evade, Select, Gunner Interact, Predict, and others.

    1. Bill,
      "Too Fiddly"? If you look at most modern board, card or RP games; take Savage Worlds or any D20 game as examples, and they are ALL ABOUT the fiddly bits. Edges, Raises, Advantages, Perks, call it what you will, they are all 'you get a bonus of +X in this specific situation. That's what the CT Computer rules do. Predict-5 has prerequisites (have the CPU space, pay the price to buy it) and gives a specific bonus - +3 to laser fire. It is the same mechanic.

  4. Mr. Weaver,

    Yup, I played with people who called the computer rules too fiddly. Like I said, it was an excuse for ignoring those rules and not a reason.

    I had groups and players in group balk at using the computer rules. They couldn't or wouldn't see what the rules added to ship combat and didn't want to make the effort so they came up with the usual excuses; it's too fiddly, it's boring, it's not "realistic", etc. I didn't and still don't understand that thinking nor am I defending it. All I'm saying is that it happened. They chose to use HG2's computer differential bonus instead.

    Of course when they complained that an IN patrol cruiser had a tough time tackling Vargr corsairs like canon suggested it should, I'd tell them "Well, if you were using the actual computer rules..." ;)