Saturday, July 25, 2020

Classic Traveller: Striker

Rod Thompson suggested that I look into Striker for Classic Traveller's vehicular combat system.  I picked up the first edition and it turned out to be quite interesting!  My points for comparison are Stargrunt, Dirtside, Battletech, OGRE, and Epic.

If you want to do Hammer's Slammers with Classic Traveller, this is The Correct Thing.

This is the sort of system that I would have adored in high school and college.  Now...  maybe it would work better with a computer for a referee.  Looking at the structure of orders that you can give a normal-initiative unit, it looks a lot like writing a program.

The approach to dealing with orders and initiative is interesting and makes a lot of sense for a hybrid wargame-RPG.  I could definitely see it being frustrating and a fair bit of overhead if not automated, though.

I like that, compared to Stargrunt, infantry operates in stands.  I dislike that you still have to track the state of every infantryman.  The scale is generally more zoomed-out than Stargrunt but more zoomed-in than Dirtside, which I think is "about right".

Vehicle damage is more complicated than Dirtside and less complicated than Battletech.  I think Mongoose Traveller's vehicle damage system is a bit simpler.

The layout and organization do not lend themselves well to reading through and understanding the system.  All of the tables are at the very end, and the rules are depth-first rather than establishing general principles and then enumerating exceptions and special cases (so, for example, indirect fire missions come between infantry firing and resolution of damage).  A lot of things that I would ordinarily consider "rules" are sort of punted out into tables which are far from the relevant text.  I feel like after a cursory read I still didn't have a good idea of how firing on vehicles works.

I was ever so slightly disappointed that there was no fission powerplant option - it would've been funny to build a fission ramjet missile-drone where you don't even need a payload, just a powerplant that explodes on impact.  And support for AI, of course, is negligible (drones are remote-controlled).  Support for enormous OGRE-style tanks seems fine but they will need a lot of crew.  No mechs / walker suspension type but it wouldn't be too hard to add.  On the upside, I'm pretty sure you can build gatling mortars with nuclear shells.  Not that you should, but the point of design systems is designing ridiculous things (...  right?).

I'm...  not sure if there's a way to arm infantry with nuclear weapons.  I think it might be possible to put one in a man-portable missile, but there's the additional requirement for vehicle-carried nukes that they be shielded storage containers with a bunch of extra mass.  So it would be dodgy.

On the other hand, you could absolutely give an infantryman a 9kg 8.5cm mortar round and a detonator, and he could carry it around at full movement speed under the encumbrance rules.  I'm not clear on the morale implications of suicide units, but if you want to model ISIS, infested terrans, or banelings, it wouldn't be hard (though the bang on a single 8.5cm mortar round is not spectacular; at TL5 they're comparable to a TL11 rifle grenade, while at TL11 parity they have about double the blast area and slightly better armor penetration.  And that's before the errata that nerfed TL scaling on HE artillery like that).

No flamethrowers?  How am I to werf flammen and/or barbeque aliens?  Plasma guns with 250m effective range just aren't quite the same.

It would be funny to add a "biological metabolism" powerplant type to the design system for eg carnifexes and other vehicle-sized bugs, with range/endurance calculated based on carried fat stores (or...  alcohol bladders, since it's almost as energy-dense as fats, and alcohol-based metabolisms would be funny).  I guess it's also worth considering that if an animal can operate in vacuum, it must also be carrying its own oxidizers?  And in order to not overheat in the insulation of vacuum, maybe you pump your heat into your metabolism's exhaust gases, which you then vent?

I hadn't looked at the rules for combat on planets with odd characteristics until the oxygen question got me curious and Striker does indeed ban air-breathing engines in certain atmosphere types (and lasers are more effective in such atmospheres, for lack of scatter).  Also: rules for tiny worlds where the horizon might only be 2km away and there's very little gravity.

It tickles my fancy that on very small worlds, artillery pieces could attain muzzle velocities higher than escape velocity (eg, the Paris Gun had a muzzle velocity of almost 1700 m/s, while Pluto's escape velocity is only around 1200 m/s), and what goes up might not come back down if your smallest available unit of propellant is too big.  Not that Striker has rules for this, but it's the sort of thing the system gets you thinking about.

I like that you can equip a weapon with multiple types of fire control.  I suspect the intention here is to let you equip lasers with both direct fire and point defense fire control, but I like that it would let you do Starcraft-style siege tanks that can fire both as artillery and direct fire.

The whole initiative system might actually make adding eg AI and weird command structures like tyranids easy.  Your low-initiative AI troops need constant supervision and wedge (or revert to instinctive behavior) if not actively controlled.  Your normal-initiative AI troops, your armored vehicles with an expert system in them, need orders.  Maybe giving them orders takes double the normal time because you have to be very careful with your language, but they're immune to panic.  The existing Drone Vehicle rules actually work just fine for this sort of AI.  And then high-initiative AIs are just like high-initiative meatbrains, with full sentience and autonomy, but self-awareness comes at the cost of morale.

The inclusion of pikes and broadswords on the melee weapons table makes me want to abuse this system by running medieval combats with it.  We need shields, bows, and javelins too though.  Aaand maybe to change the ground-scale so that your stand of 4 guys with pikes isn't covering a linear area of 30m.

(Bonus: biological powerplant, legged suspension, megawatt plasma cannon "breath weapon" dragons.  Not that powering a megawatt with biological scaling laws is really workable, you'd need to mass a couple of hundred thousand metric tons to have that sort of output continuously, but it's fun to play with)

Come to think of it, since there are revolvers, early gatling guns, and rules for riding animals, Wild West combats might be viable too.  Tweak bolt-action rifles down to lever-action and add bows and you're good to go (pardner).

Zhodani teleport-commandos in battledress with plasma guns are a daunting prospect.

I think I mostly like the handling of infantry armor penetration here, where you roll 2d6, add the weapon's armor penetration score, subtract the target's armor score, and index into a table of hit severity.  You make tradeoffs in ammunition selection, since high-explosive ammunition does more severe hits but has lower penetration than sabot.  This is how they dodge the problem that Mongoose Traveller has with armor as DR, where anything that can hurt a guy in battle dress kills anyone else instantly - sabot ammunition does less damage to lightly-armored guys in Striker than HE ammunition, but has a better chance of hurting the guys in heavy armor.

I'm a little surprised that I'm not seeing any rules for readying actions, like Stargrunt's overwatch?  But I guess in a system that is all about orders, "go to that hill and fire on any enemies that come within xx range" is just a thing you can do without a special rule maybe?  Is that the intent of the segment of the fire phase where the other player's units fire, to do fire in reaction to your movement?  I wish the rules were clearer about this; the Indirect Fire section has a paragraph on "When Units Fire", but there isn't one like that for Direct Fire.  There are also basically no sidebar-style examples of how rules are supposed to work, and looking for after-action reports or youtube videos was, of course, fruitless.  I guess I the old Citizens of the Imperium forums are probably the right venue for this question?

I think the combat rules are rather heavy for use as a mass combat add-on to Traveller RPG play, and the command-and-control is a little heavy/annoying for use as a miniatures combat game.  But it's a thought-provoking set of rules and would probably be a fun toolkit to fiddle with.

Bonus: buried in the back of the Advanced Rules is a section on computing the planetary domestic product of different world types in Traveller, for the purpose of figuring their military spending, of course.  This would be a hilarious launching point for "domain" gameplay.


  1. I once, like you, had the idea to use Striker to run medieval battles. I think that it turned out that the WRG base sizes were just about perfect, assuming (like WRG Ancients and Medieval) 20 men to a figure/base.

    For further developments and refinements of the Striker rules that might help illuminate the intentions, look at the mass combat system in MegaTraveller's supplement Referee's Companion and the Striker II rules for Traveller: The New Era. Also, Azhanti High Lightning's shipboard combat rules are closely related and may prove useful.

    1. Mm, increasing number of guys per stand is also a good approach, and that's a reasonable number.

      I was curious about Striker 2, but wasn't sure how much T:NE I'd need to know for it to make sense. Is it as standalone as Striker 1?

    2. Like Striker, Striker II integrates with the RPG, but also like Striker it can be played on its own. The entire dice resolution mechanic is explained on page 4, under rule 1.4. It's slightly counter-intuitive (a plus difficulty reduces the chance of success) because it is developed from the TNE RPG mechanic, but once you get the hang of that it plays straightforwardly.

      Also, I should point out that WRG base sizes are smaller than Striker ones, but then ancient/medieval troops tend to cluster in a much smaller area. Doing the arithmetic again, it looks like you'd probably want to use something around a 15mm x 15mm base to contain 40 troops, as four ranks of 10 men each. That means that each man takes up a frontage of about 1.5m and they stand far enough apart in ranks to allow the use of weapons. Different types of formation (loose, allowing quicker movement in rough terrain; close, allowing maximum troop density for assault; or dispersed to maximize skirmish and scouting potential) might alter the base size, of course, and cavalry are another thing again. Here are the WRG base sizes that approximate Striker scales, given as frontage x depth:

      Close formation infantry (40 men): 15mm x 15mm
      Loose formation infantry (40 men): 20mm x 20mm
      Dispersed formation infantry (40 men): 30mm x 20mm
      Close formation cavalry (40 men): 15mm x 25mm
      Loose formation cavalry (40 men): 20mm x 25mm
      Dispersed formation cavalry (40 men): 30mm x 25mm
      Camelry: same as cavalry, except that there are no close formation camelry
      Elephants (10 beasts): 40mm x 40mm
      Light chariotry (10 2-horse chariots): 40mm x 40mm
      Heavy chariotry (10 4-horse chariots): 60mm x 40mm

  2. Glad you enjoyed my suggestion. I've had the Traveller/Battle Tech discussion a number of time over the years. Once you have anti-grav, there's no point in the Walker suspensions. Something Star Wars should have considered too.

    1. Thanks again for the suggestion, Rod!

      Don't get me wrong, I'm not a mech partisan - I think that the ground pressure, tall target profile, and ability to fall over probably render them rather impractical even without competition from grav. But I like having the option in design systems to shoot myself in the foot and model ridiculous universes.

      I also feel like grav renders helicopters obsolete-ish, but there are rules for those - is there a role for helos on the grav battlefield that I'm not seeing? Were they included mostly because they exist IRL and low-tech forces might still reasonably field them?

      Sometimes I think that Traveller makes anti-gravity available a little too early in its future timeline / technological progression, but I think the issue might actually be in Striker. CT Book 3 says that grav tanks aren't common until TL10, and Mercenary agrees, but of the three example vehicles in Striker book 3, two are TL9 armored grav vehicles. Grav propulsion seems limited primarily by available power, with fusion powerplants having the same efficiency at both TL9 and TL10. So the design rules don't seem to lead to the stated / desired outcomes.