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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Scenario Creation in Star Fleet Battles

This is Steven Petrick posting.

Scenarios are one of the ways to get your name published in the Star Fleet Universe, but there are a few things one should keep in mind when creating a scenario.

Star Fleet Battles is, at its core, a very tactical game that works best when the number of ships is kept to a minimum. It may seem like a romp to create two massive battle fleets, fully tricked out with fighters, fast patrol ships, scouts, and other specialist ships, but such massive slugfests will probably not see a lot of play. Controlling all of the ships and tracking all of the attrition units is frequently more than can be done in a single weekend (much less a single day), even if every ship has its own captain and he will control his own attrition units and you have a separate game monitor who will control the impulse table and moderate the sequence of play.

By and large try to keep the scenario down to (if you must have more than one ship on a side) a squadron of three or so ships. Smaller ships are easier to handle (and more likely to be knocked out faster) allowing for a shorter game but much of the feel of larger operations.

Another aspect is the special rules. You may want your scenario to involve the cleverly arranged ambush of any enemy force. But if your scenario involves a special rule telling one side they have to stick their proverbial heads on the chopping block, they will do all they can to avoid doing so. No rule you can write will make them ignorant of the fact that the scenario is an ambush, and generally they will know the order of battle of the ambushers and can have a pretty good idea of where they are and will do what they can to avoid it.

If you must have an ambush, it is probably best to start the scenario at the moment the ambush is sprung. That is to say have the specific starting hex of both sides, their specific speed for the previous turn (Turn #0), and any other unique circumstances. (You might even be specifying the damage one side received on Turn #0 and the empty weapons on the other side that will need reloading even though they are otherwise at WS-III.)

Do not be afraid to use terrain if it will make things interesting, but make sure you understand how the terrain feature you are using actually works. It can be embarrassing to discover that one side's technology is so negatively impacted by a given terrain as to make them essentially helpless before their opponent.

If you are going to create a monster as an opponent, you might start with Captain's Log #29 which had an article which collected all of the existing monster rules otherwise disbursed through the rulebooks, and you might look at some (you do not have to look at all of them) of the monster articles published in subsequent Captain's Logs for ideas of what to ask yourself in determining your monster's capabilities. (It can be embarrassing to have someone ask you what happens when your monster runs over a mine, or runs into a swarm of drones and you have not written a rule to cover it.)

Another aspect is background. Your scenario does not have to be the "pivotal battle that decided the outcome of the General War." It can be an important battle, or a battle that should never have been fought but that two captains (or commodores, or admirals) just could not let it go. But remember that background should also help explain your scenario special rules in some sense (the two captains that could not let it go explains why your scenario has a no retreat, no surrender, duel to the death outcome!).

And remember. Do not fixate on the full on warships. Star Fleet Battles has a rich plethora of ships. An auxiliary heavy carrier might have a duel to the death with an enemy auxiliary small fast patrol ship tender because both were being used to patrol quiet sectors on the front line and things got out of hand. Perhaps each might have a police ship or two (or armed freighters) as consorts that arrived before the battle got serious.

But remember that, in general you must adhere to the background. Someone wanted to use a monitor to attack an enemy base, and the game background in general does not allow this. (Monitors are so slow that by the time they arrive at the base to attack it, even with diversionary operations, the enemy will have time to gather a strong defending force.) But there are exceptions. A monitor that is moving towards the planet it will garrison, or returning from having garrisoned a planet that has now had a base built at it, just might happen to stumble across an Orion base. Or an Andromedan base. These are bases that are within its own empire and not part of an organized front and generally depend on being hidden and "off the beaten track" rather than having strong defending forces. Further, there is always a chance of a civil war encounter, a Romulan Monitor at the start of the Romulan civil war, or a Kzinti monitor at the start of the War of Return, or a Lyran monitor in any of the series of Lyran civil wars. The monitor might side with the opposition of the base that it was approaching when the civil war broke out.

You can find openings to write scenarios, but always keep in mind that you want your scenario "big enough to present the situation, but small enough to be interesting to play in an evening" to paraphrase an older quote.