Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Sixty-eight guns will never die, sixty-eight guns our battle cry.

The ongoing work at my father's house to prepare for me moving in with him has taken up most of my time in the last week or so.  We're now preparing the front room for redecoration, which has been my temporary bedroom/mancave for the past eight months, so the painting table and all the half-completed projects on it have had to be packed up and put into storage, along with the 4' wargaming board. At the very least this is triggering a shift in gaming gears, as well as enforcing a bit of a break in the crafting side of things.

So I find myself turning again to the "software" side of wargaming, rules and mechanics.  One of the common complaints I've heard about GASLIGHT is that it leaves a great deal up to the gamer, such as coming up with appropriate vehicle attributes.  "What stats should I give my steam contraption?" asks the newbie GASLIGHTER, perhaps more used to having "Chapter Approved" vehicle profiles spoon-fed to them by Other Games.  People kept asking for benchmarks against which to evaluate their vehicles.

Of  course, having been designed to be as open and generic as possible within the Victorian Science Fiction field (and knowing Buck, with one eye on Pulp-era gaming as well) GASLIGHT couldn't give hard and fast benchmarks.  As soon as it did that, it would be imposing a specific vision on the gamer.  As an example of this, the Valor, Steel and Flesh rules from Paroom station have all land vehicles moving at exactly the same speed.  Now if your concept of VSF vehicles is that they'd all tend to be slow, hulking brutes of broadly comparable size and power, then that's fair enough, and probably a reasonably realistic assessment of the very first real-world landships.  But it then rules out a whole world of interesting vehicle concepts - swift monowheels, light tankettes, or Professor Nutjob's Atomic Rocket-powered Racecar.

So GASLIGHT declines to give "official" benchmarks, leaving it up to each individual gamer to rate his toys. But actually, GASLIGHT does give you a hidden benchmark of sorts, masquerading as the Vehicle and Conveyance Capabilities Chart.
(c) Christopher Palmer and John R. “Buck” Surdu and used without permission.

I've redacted parts of the table in an unsubtle ploy to force you to go buy the GASLIGHT Compendium. Hey don't blame me, if they were my rules I'd have Open Sourced them by now.  Anyway, we're only interested in the extremes and the median values for our purposes.  This table masquerades as a means for randomly generating vehicle stats, but who on earth would ever want to trust the performance of their shiny new steamtank to the roll of some dice?  This is actually our secret benchmarking key. Look at the two highlighted median rows.  Imagine your hypothetical "average vehicle" as having stats rolled on these two rows.  I used my standard British Landships (Atlantis "Spanner" tanks) as the average vehicle.  For a WWI game, you might choose the British Mk IV tank as your average, for  WWII you might choose a Panzer IV. For a modern-day "street violence" game, it might be a mid-sized family saloon car.  You might not want to actually field a vehicle with all-average stats, but merely keep it in mind as a "hypothetical".  Since we have two median values, pick one or the other, or alternate low value/high value, but don't worry too much about the exact values.

So for every other vehicle you need to evaluate, compare it with your average and within the bounds of the maximum and minimum values on this table.  We're not trying to rate things in absolute terms, so that so many inches of armour equals such-and-such a Save score, or so many MPH of speed equates to X inches of movement.  We're just looking for capabilities relative to our average.

Let's look at armour Save for example.  The values on the table above are for a vehicle classed as Armoured.  Unarmoured vehicles halve this value, giving unarmoured vehicles with Saves of 5-8, Armoured Saves of 9-16 with 12-13 being our Average.  You can quickly run through the options for rating a new vehicle in your mind.

Is this the lightest-armoured vehicle I'm ever likely to field?  If yes then Save=9
If the answer is "nearly the lightest" then Save=10
If the answer is "no, but it's still lighter than our Average" then Save =11

Is this the heaviest-armoured vehicle I'm ever likely to field?  If yes then Save=16
If the answer is "nearly the heaviest" then Save=15

If the answer is "no, but it's still significantly heavier than our Average" then Save =14

If you get to this point, then your vehicle has roughly similar levels of armour protection as your average vehicle, so give it a Save of 12 or 13.  (Depending on which of the two numbers you picked, you have one last option to make the vehicle ever so slightly better or worse than the Average)

For land vehicle Speed, we have another guideline to bear in mind, normal human movement speed.  Anything with a speed of less than 6" is going to be unable to keep up with even infantry.  Fortunately for us, powered vehicles roll twice on the Steam column and add the values together, giving us a range of from 6" to  20", with an Average of 13" (or just a shade faster than Cavalry)  Follow the same process, evaluating your vehicle's movement compared to the average.  For Speed, again it's larger, but on the other hand is wheeled which suggests faster speed.  Overall I'd rate it as equal to the average - Speed 13". 

Spin is a bit of a special case, in that the die rolls don't really give you a minimum-median-maximum.  Instead I assume that most vehicles will have a 45 degree Spin, unless there's a good reason based on the design or purpose for them to have better.  For example, a very small tankette with closely spaced treads looks like it ought to be very nippy and manoeuvrable and so might get a Spin of 90.  The Royal Horseless Artillery Gun Trucks mount a heavy revolving cannon on the front and a lighter defensive Gatling gun on the rear.  They look like they're built to dash forward into position, fire their main gun, then quickly turn around and retire from enemy attacks using the rear Gatling for covering fire.  For that tactic to work in a GASLIGHT game, it needs to have a 180 degree Spin, which is what we gave it.  I also tend to give walking vehicles a 90 degree Spin by default as well.

Let's do a worked example, for the Brass Coffin from Ramshackle Games.  It's bigger and chunkier than the standard Landship, but it does have a lot more exposed cogs and machinery and looks a less efficient shape - Save of 11.  For Start and Sustain, the Brass Coffin is the product of a Mad Inventor and so you might expect it to be a little less reliable than a mature piece of engineering like the Landship.  On the other hand, with more of the Coffin's mechanics exposed, it might be easier to carry out field repairs and kick start it when it stalls.  So we'll go with a Sustain of 16 (slightly inferior) and Start of 13 (top end of average).  Finally for the Spin score, I see no reason why it shouldn't have the default 45 degrees.

So much for the vehicles, how about the bits that go BOOM. Although GASLIGHT has a weapon generation table and you could follow the same process as above using that, I found the simplest method for rating conventional vehicle weaponry at least was to stick to the three "basic" artillery sizes, Light, Medium and Heavy.  This requires a fairly straightforward assessment of the weapon based on size and simplifies play a great deal.  You may want to customise the stats slightly to better reflect the model - a Medium gun with a short barrel might only have a 36" long range instead of 48".

One thing to bear in mind - a lot of VSF or SF vehicle models mount outsized weapon barrels, much larger in diameter than a 28mm field gun model.  Rather than have almost every vehicle carrying a Heavy Gun, I've generally rated most guns as Medium, except where it's obviously intended to be a light or particularly heavy weapon.

For a more detailed approach, I'd always been impressed with the Space 1889 Soldier's Companion with its chapter on Artillery of the World.  In it were stats for pretty much every type of field artillery or naval gun you're likely to come across in the 19th century, on Earth or Mars.  I always wondered whether it would be possible to convert those tables into GASLIGHT terms.  I spent an hour or so and worked up stats for a selection enough to cover most GASLIGHT needs.
(c) Chris Johnston 2012... nah who am I kidding, if you want to copy this
then fill yer boots.

The first three entries are the "standard" artillery types.  Again I wanted to establish a median, and so compared the Medium Gun to the Space 1889 stats for the 12pdr, which was the standard British field artillery piece around the time I play in (1880s-1890s)  One hex/foot of range in Space 1889 equated to 8" in GASLIGHT, and applying that scale to other weapons gave reasonably close values.  "Heavy" guns gain a few inches of range, but nothing too startling.  I adjusted SRMs by eye, taking guidance from the Space 1889 tables Penetration and Damage values.  I've highlighted the three gun types that equate best to the "standard" artillery types. To be honest, this scale starts to break down once you start to get into the heavy naval artillery.  Personally I would never use more than a 6" gun, and that only on the very heaviest of vehicles, but I've included speculative stats for 8" to 12" guns for anyone who wants to play out a battleship bombardment.
For the heavier guns I've also adopted the Space 1889 notation for Rate of Fire.  A number in brackets indicates the number of turns taken reloading between shots.  So a gun with a ROF of (2) may fire, spend two turns reloading, then fire again on the fourth turn.
All these stats are for modern rifled artillery.  For Smoothbores, GASLIGHT suggests deducting 2 from the SRM.  If you want to be realistic, you could also reduce the range of smoothbores to about 75%.  So if you were playing an ACW by GASLIGHT game, a 12pdr Napoleon smoothbore would have a long range of 36" and an SRM of 0, compared to the similarly sized 3" Ordinance Rifle's range of 48" and SRM of +2.

Of course, all these weapons ratings are scaled to match my vision of VSF and the sorts of games I want to play.  You might decide to see things on a slightly grander scale, rating all field artillery as Light guns, 4" to 8" guns as Medium Guns and leaving Heavy Guns to represent battleship main armaments. You may or may not decide that those outsized gun barrels are actually naval calibre guns.

Both our approaches are equally correct according to our own visions of VSF.  And that just goes to illustrate how flexible GASLIGHT can be.  As long as you rate all troops and vehicles in a battle relative to eachother, the rules can handle a wide range of different styles and periods.


  1. Fine work there Chris, very helpful! Thanks

  2. Great article Chris, I found it very helpful.

  3. Very useful work. Even with my limited experience of GASLIGHT I can see there are issues with vehicles that need to be addressed, and you've covered them succinctly. Thanks for sharing.