Sunday, October 26, 2014

Look up in the Sky!

Players of GDW's Sky Galleons of Mars aerial combat game who feel they have mastered the game might want to consider using the following supplemental rules to cover situations not anticipated by the original game.
HMS Aphid vs. Hullcutter, by James Colton McGonigle, ©1988 
These rules are intended to add some uncertainty to the tactics of the game, and thereby simulate the often unpredictable nature of high-altitude battles.
Screw Galley Sprints: A player commanding a Martian Screw Galley may elect to have his ship's turncranks do a "sprint" during one movement phase. To perform a sprint, the player rolls a die and divides the result in half (rounding all fractions down). The resulting number is the additional number of movement points gained by the ship for this turn. The next turn, the ship may only use half its normal movement points (round down). A ship can only sprint once per scenario.
Boiler Overloads: British players can attempt a similar technique using a steam flyer's boilers. At the start of his movement, the player declares he is overloading the boiler, rolls a die and consults the following table:
Boiler Overload Table
1: Boiler Explodes (see Critical Hit table).
2: Boiler Damage; speed reduced by 1. (as with Boiler hit damage result, this speed reduction only lasts one turn)
3: No Effect.
4: Add 1 movement point.
5: Add 2 movement points.
6: Add 3 movement points.
(A player may use this option as often as he likes.)
Updrafts and Downdrafts: Winds do not only blow horizontally; there are often powerful currents of air pushing a ship up or down. This can sometimes be useful, other times devastating. At the start of each ships movement, roll a die. If the result is 6, then that ship has encountered an updraft or a downdraft. Roll again and consult the following table:
Draft Table
1: Strong downdraft. Roll a 1 or 2 to avoid losing one altitude level.
2-3: Downdraft. Roll a 1-4 to avoid losing one level.
4-5: Updraft. Roll a 1-4 to avoid climbing one level.
6: Strong updraft. Roll a 1 or 2 to avoid losing one altitude level.
When rolling to avoid changing altitude, Kites always add 1 to the die roll. A player may always elect not to roll; this means changing altitude without the expenditure of movement points. Note that each ship may also climb or descend to counter the effects of wind currents - unless the trim gear or engines are out of order.
High Martian flying parties and English marines aboard Throckmorton Conveyers will also be affected by updrafts and downdrafts. Because they are smaller, they are more vulnerable to the wind. Roll normally to see if flying parties encounter updrafts or downdrafts, but they are automatically affected if those winds exist. On a 1-3, the winds blow the fliers up one altitude level; on a 4-6, the winds blow the fliers down one level. Fliers blown into the ground roll one die for each individual in the party - on a 1 or 2 the individual survives. Any Throckmorton Conveyers blown into the ground are automatically damaged and cannot be used even if the passenger survives. No flying parties or conveyers may be lifted above Very High altitude.
Martian Pole Mines: The Pole Mine is a new device, created by Oenotrian shipbuilders desperate to overcome the superior British vessels. It is nothing more than a standard Drogue Torpedo mounted on a long pole in front of the vessel. The vessel makes its attack as if intending to ram the target vessel, but the impact triggers the pole mine before the ships collide. A Pole Mine does damage to the target like a Tether Mine or Drogue Torpedo. The attacking ship suffers no damage, but after the mine detonates, the attacker must roll normally to avoid colliding with the target ship. As with other ram attacks, the target may attempt to evade a Pole Mine.
The Pole Mine is intended to be mounted on small, fast screw galleys, analogous to the torpedo boats of Earth's oceans. Only a single Pole Mine can be mounted on a vessel, and once triggered, it is gone. Weight: 1 ton; cost £25; Crew: none.
High Martian Sabotage Parties: High Martian flying parties can perform other jobs besides simply boarding enemy ships. One flying party in a given scenario can be designated by the High Martian player as a specially-trained Sabotage Party. The Sabotage Party can attack the rigging of kites, the propellers of screw galleys and steam flyers, and the rudders of any craft.
The party must be in the same hex as the target when attacking, and and the player must state what component is being attacked. He then rolls a die. On a 6 the party does one die worth of damage to that component. If the crew quality of the High Martian is Crack, then the sabotage party does damage on a 5 or a 6.
Mutiny: High Martian screw galleys use slaves as turncranks. Under certain circumstances, these slaves may to revolt and take control of the ship. Each turn, before the Movement Phase, the High Martian player rolls a die for each screw galley under his command, and adds the following modifiers to the roll:
Mutiny Table Modifiers
+1 for each enemy boarding party aboard;
+1 for each Critical Hit the ship has suffered;
+1 if the High Martian ships are outnumbered;
-1 for each High Martian officer aboard;
-1 if the enemy is outnumbered;
-1 if the ship is on fire.
The player then consults the following table:
Mutiny Table
1-7: No effect.
8-10: Turncranks refuse to crank. The ship has no movement Points this turn. Roll again normally next turn.
11+: Turncranks rebel. They are organized into Boarding Parties of 10 men each, under the control of the enemy player.
Each group of 10 can inflict 1 die of casualties on the officers and gunners, following usual combat rules. Once all High Martian on board have been defeated, the rebel-controlled ship will attempt to leave the map. The revolt can be put down by the High Martian player if half the rebelling turncranks are killed, or if the enemy in the battle is defeated. If the rebellion has been put down on a High Martian ship, then there will be no more mutinies aboard that vessel during the battle.
Note that the High Martian player need not begin rolling until his ships have started suffering casualties. These rules could also be used to determine the behavior of captured merchant ships controlled by privateers but crewed by prisoners.
Notes: These rules can create some interesting tactical situations. For example, the Sprint rules mean that even relatively slow Martian screw galleys have a chance of closing with faster British steam ships, to board or ram. The wind rules make scenarios amid the mountains especially tricky. Pole Mines are a way for small ships to do significant damage, and are cheap enough for any ship to mount. The High Martian rules are particularly appropriate in more role-playing-oriented scenarios, such as the Great Raid, or in a Sky Galleons campaign game (inspiring the slaves on a High Martian screw galley to revolt would look marvelous in the pages of the London Times ).
About the Author
James L. Cambias is Chief Game Architect at Zygote Games. Jim began writing games in 1990, and worked for Game Designers' Workshop, Steve Jackson Games, HERO Games, and Iron Crown Enterprises before joining Zygote. He is also the author of the SF novel A Darkling Sea, and the forthcoming Corsair (Tor Books, Spring 2015)

by James Cambias, ©1991. This article originally appeared in issue #10 of The Game Oracle. It is used here with the permission of the author.

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  1. Great article - thanks for digging up this blast from the past!

    1. Paul, you are very welcome! I still have a few more "oldies" to go!


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