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Of Sensors and Needles - Some Questions and Suggestions

From: agoodall@s... (Allan Goodall)
Date: Sat, 22 Nov 1997 05:19:06 GMT
Subject: Of Sensors and Needles - Some Questions and Suggestions

Topic: Advanced Sensor Rules and Needle Weapons

Hi, gang. I've been creating a Microsoft Access program to automate
PBEM games and I came across some problems with the advanced sensor
rules from More Thrust. I'd like your opinion on the following:

In the main FT rules, when you fire a Needle Beam at a ship you get to
pick the system on the target ship that will be attacked by the Needle
Beam. This seems to imply that all of a ship's systems are available
for perusal under the basic FT rules, otherwise how would you know
what to target with your Needle Beams? (Yes, no, opinions?)

When using the Bogey rules a ship is "unknown" until it is actively or
passively scanned, at which point the ship is placed on the table.
Since Needle Beams have a range of 9" they are automatically within
passive sensor range. No problem.

Here's where the trouble comes in: the advanced sensor rules in More
Thrust seem to imply that ship record sheets are hidden. In More
Thrust we have Basic, Enhanced and Superior sensors. The rules state
that Basic sensors act like the regular sensors from the FT, that is
an active scan places the ship on the table. However, what does this
MEAN exactly when Needle Beams are used? The implication in FT is that
once a ship is placed on the table you can see its record sheet,
otherwise you won't know what systems can be hit. 

The Enhanced and Superior sensors give you more information about the
ship. A die roll of 1 or 2 gives nothing, 3 gives mass and whether or
not the ship is a military ship, and better rolls give more and more
detailed information about the ship. The implication here is that the
record sheets are hidden until a suitable sensor roll is made. This
seems to contradict the line in More Thrust that states that basic
sensors act just as they do in FT because FT implies that you get to
see the entire record sheet.

So what do you REALLY get from an active scan using the More Thrust
rules? Here's my interpretation; let me know what you think about it:

Bogey: you know the ship's rough size grouping (escort, cruiser,
capital). Merchant ships will be slotted into one of these three
settings based on their mass. For example, a mass 32 merchant would be
listed as a cruiser sized bogey.

Basic Sensors and Passive Sensors: successful active scan gets you the
ship name, the class name, and size grouping. You do NOT know if it is
a military ship or a merchant. Most of this data will be completely
useless unless: 1) you've met this ship and class before, 2) you scan
another ship with better sensors and find out exactly what it has on
it, 3) as part of the scenario/campaign you are given record sheets
for ships your side has encountered previously in the universe

Enhanced Sensors: as per the More Thrust rules. A 1 or 2 roll gives
you the same as basic sensors (this isn't explicitly stated in the
More Thrust rules; they state that you get no information, but I think
this should default to the same info as Basic Sensors). A 3 gives you
the actual mass and whether the ship is a military ship or a merchant.
Higher rolls give you more information about systems.

Superior Sensors: same as enhanced sensors, but with the +2 to the die
roll listed in More Thrust.

Okay, but how does the above tie in with Needle Beams? This is totally
unexplained. How can a ship target a system that it doesn't know
exists? Well, it probably can't. But can a ship target a weapon system
it hasn't scanned but KNOWS exists because it's been hit by it? 

You might be tempted to say "yes" to that last question, but here's a
problem. Let's say there's a NAC cruiser with 2 A beams. It fires one
A beam at a Eurasian battleship on turn 1. The Eurasian battleship
fires a pulse torpedo back at it, and the torpedo causes a threshold
check that takes out one of the A beams. Turn 2 and the battleship
fires first. It hasn't successfully scanned the NAC cruiser,  but the
player declares a Needle Beam attack on the A beam that fired at it.
The NAC player says, "Sorry, you took that out with the pulse torps,"
and proceeds to attack the battleship with the remaining A beam. This
causes an argument as the Eurasian player says, "Prove to me that the
remaining A beam wasn't the one that fired at me!" You see the
problem? The Eurasian player knows the NAC ship had an A beam, but it
didn't know about the OTHER A beam. 

In order for this to work properly everyone would have to keep a list
of which weapon was fired previously and so is known to all enemy
ships. Oh, but suppose the enemy has reinforcements show up? For that
matter, should every player on the same side see the results of an
active scan? Now you have to keep track of which weapons were fired
previously and which ships saw the weapon fire or scanned the ship!
This could get out of control pretty easy.

Needle beams become seriously over priced based on the above argument.
Either you end up with a lot of onerous bookkeeping or your needle
beams can't fire until a ship has been scanned. And does the same
criteria hold true for needle missiles? 

Does anyone have any suggestions for handling this anomaly? 

I've come up with some options to handle this. I'm not 100% in favour
of any of them, but they cover the options I could think of. Any other
options, or comments on these, are greatly appreciated.

1) Don't use advanced sensor rules with needle weapons. (Simple
enough, but a bit of a cop out.)

2)  Don't let a needle weapon fire at any system -- including the
engines -- without the system being scanned. (This makes needle
weapons more difficult to use. It also has the weird situation of a
weapon being fired but no needle weapon able to target it because it
wasn't scanned).

3) Allow a needle weapon to fire at the engines of a ship without
having to scan them. All other systems must be scanned first.

4) Allow ships firing needle weapons (beams and missiles) to see a
list of systems on a target ship. Assume that needle weapons require
advanced sensors better than that available on other ships. (Of
course, this will lead to scanning by needle fire. I can see needle
missiles becoming a cheap form of drone sensor package, with the side
effect of it possibly destroying a system.)

5) Make all system information available to all ships within 9",
putting all ships on an even playing field. (This works for needle
beams, but what about needle missiles?)

6) Allow a needle weapon to fire at a ship that hasn't been scanned.
The shot will target a random system. As an option, allow knocked out
systems to be counted as the possible target system. (Essentially, the
gun team or missile AI is aiming at gun ports, missile tubes, or just
prominent bits of the ship.)

7) Same as 6, but group systems into three main chunks: weapons
(including fire cons), engines (including FTL) and other. A needle
weapon would target one of these chunks, and the system targeted would
be chosen at random from the systems in that chunk. (Same as 6, but
the firing player has a bit more control over what he fires at). 

8) Keep track of each system that fires. If it has fired, treat it as
though it had been scanned. Optionally, keep track of each ship that
saw the weapon fire. (Lots of bookkeeping, and probably not worth the

Note that in most cases if a successful scan has been done, allow the
ship to fire at a scanned system. This may still involve bookkeeping,
as it's possible for a ship to discover that it's target had -- for
example -- an A beam but it wouldn't necessarily know that it had been
taken out on a threshold check.

And finally, do you use the advanced sensor rules? Do you use the
needle weapons (beams and/or missiles)? If yes to both, do you use
them both at once? If so, how do YOU handle it?
"Unlike serial killer profiling, writing is a lonely and
depressing profession." - Jose Chung, Millenium

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