I appreciate the feedback on this forum. I refrained from making any comment until now because I wanted see where discussion went organically. It played out more or less the way I expected it to, and now I can build a relatively succinct rebuttal to the points.
For clarity, There are two major game balance points I desired to address with this thread. They are:
- I find that agility is too important to the conduct of vehicular combat, and combat in general
- I would like to see the Smuggler career, especially the Pilot specialization tree, feel more dependent on the Cunning attribute.
I think changing pilot(Space) to a Cunning skill is supported by the following:
- It better reflects the description of the skill in the RAW
- For ship silhouettes 1-4, it better reflects, at least part of, modern dog-fighting theory (The OODA loop)
- For ship silhouettes 5-8, agility is an irrelevant stat.
I find that agility is too important to the conduct of vehicular combat, and combat in general
As it stands, Agility skills are used to check all movement and weapons fire in all vehicular combat, all ranged combat skills, and several general skills. Given the frequency with which these check are made, I feel that agility is over-represented and gives too much power to players who heavily weight agility to those that don’t. Agility is simply “too good” of a stat because it has too many bonuses associated with improving that stat compared to other stats. It is my experience that these situations lead to polarized play environments where players that did not “stack agility” for whatever reason, feel much less useful than those who took easy character optimization choices. It pushes players to create more homogenous characters instead varied characters to avoid being viewed as dead or seeing only one way to have fun. Character homogenization leads to a variety of role-play problems that really bring down fun for everyone at the table. I think we can all agree that vehicular combat is a frequent and important part of any Star Wars RPG, and removing some homogenization from at least space combat will improve the game. Taking Pilot(Space) away from agility will help to mitigate this homogenization and open the door further to more interesting characters and character creation decisions.
I would like to see the Smuggler career, especially the Pilot specialization tree, feel more dependent on the Cunning attribute
After learning about the attributes in this system, the first attribute when I hear “Smuggler” really is Cunning. These are characters are described in the first line of their career as “Crafty, diverse bunch”. They are cheats, survivors, grifters, and pilots that excel at making the most of what they have while always pursuing more, by any means necessary. Cunning should be an important part of the skills and talents for all 3 specializations in this career, and I think it is for the most part, except the Pilot, which has 3 agility skills and 1 intelligence skill (more agility skills than even the Thief has). Moving Pilot(Space) from agility to cunning helps balance these specs somewhat.
Pilot(space) as a cunning skill better reflects the description of the skill in the RAW
The first thing I did before starting this thread was to read description of Pilot(Space) in the Beta book. It was surprisingly obtuse about exact what is actually “done” with this skill, and instead discusses in some pretty text why sentients ply the space lanes. Further it states some actions are simple enough to not need rolls, but the situations may be more complicated, and then they do. So that was useless. The three examples they provide as bullets in the skill description are:
- Competitive checks in a race
- Opposed checks in a chase through [stellar obstacles of your choice]
- Jockeying for position in a dogfight
Now, some people may think that speed and maneuverability is paramount in these situations, and I’d you were right. But speed and maneuverability are not qualities dictated by piloting skill, they are determined and set by the vehicle. So what does this mean for the piloting skill? It means that the skill represents a character’s ability to get the most performance possible out of his vehicle given his goals, his opponents’ goals, the environment, and the ships involved. Figuring out how to best accomplish this lands squarely at the feet of Cunning skills and abilities. Pilot(Space) represents the characters ability to use and maneuver an intricate and complex tool to further their combat/transportation goals. In a chase, part of the challenge of evading or capturing your opponent is outrunning them, but speed is determined by vehicle. The skill involved in capturing or evading capture is blocking avenues of escape or creating openings where the pursuer can’t follow, respective. This kind of maneuvering is Cunning. When jockeying for position in fighters, you are playing a similar game: You are trying to predict and maneuver against a wily opponent who is trying to do the same to you. It doesn’t matter much how fast your reflexes are, if you are moving predictably. Being unpredictable is a “Cunning” trait. They way a dogfight should (and does) go is:
- Cunning to get into better firing position, and deny the opponent a shot.
- Agility to make the shot when you’re there
Similar to planning an ambush (Survival) from which to strike with a ranged weapon (Ranged combat skill)
For ship silhouettes 1-4, Pilot(space) as a cunning skill better reflects, at least part of, modern dog-fighting theory (The OODA loop)
I have not read the book by Shaw above. I have read the biography of Col. Boyd, USAF. He was a cantankerous bastard of a fighter pilot who flew late in Korea, and became an almost unbeaten fighter pilot instructor at USAF Fighter Weapons School in the late 50’s and 60’s. I would be shocked if the cited book did not build on Aerial Attack Study he wrote during these years [Edit: I have found internet conversation stating Shaw takes straight from Boyd's manual], in addition to his Energy-Maneuverability theory and time-based theory of conflict. He developed several key military theories, including something called the OODA loop (part of his ‘Patterns of conflict’ presentation). OODA stands for:
Observe, Orient, Decide, Act
It basically abstracts the steps of a human’s decision-making process: Observe the current environment, comprehend what it means, decide on a course of action, take the action, then observe the effects. He made it very clear that fighter pilots able to complete an OODA loop faster than their opponents will vastly increase their survival because they will decide on and control the terms of the engagement. The ability to perform this purely mental exercise is what dogfighting is all about. The ability to more quickly complete a loop (“thinking quickly” a quality of increased cunning, not agility) is what makes or breaks a pilot in these situations, not agility. The maneuverability and speed of the fighters helps or hinders the action step of an OODA loop, but none of the steps have anything to do with agility.
I appreciate Donovan’s point that, in WWII, fighter pilots we judged on hand-eye coordination, and Star Wars viewed it’s fighters as Mustangs, Lightnings, Mosquitoes, and Zeros. It was actually shown that many of the abilities and strategies used by WWII pilots were really implementations of the OODA loop, as were other tactics, such as the Blitzkrieg ("Get inside your opponents OODA loop via rapid response"). Many other concepts we see in the Star Wars space combat scenes are more evolved and modern than their WWII counterparts. Star Wars doesn’t use epic numbers of bombers to drop dumb explosives on targets. It uses guided projectiles and targeting computers (even if they do look like bomb sights and shitty 1970s computers). International orange flight suits weren’t used until the late 50’s or 60s. The point being, Star Wars wasn’t shackled to the WWII images/style. There’s no need to shackle RPG rules to outdated thinking either.
For ship silhouettes 5-8, agility is an irrelevant stat
I made the argument for piloting a capital ship using a cunning (or at least, non-agility)skill above. In essence, it depends on who you say is actually piloting the ship. I find it makes little sense to attribute the piloting ability to the helmsman, because the most important factors concerning ship movement are not a “light touch” or fast reflexes, they are instead:
- Where is the ship going
- How is the ship getting there
- Why is the ship going there
These are decisions made by the Conn officer. Further, it makes sense to have one character making on roll for ship piloting, even though there are multiple individual characters (should be NPCs) involved in carrying the decision out. The person who makes the most sense to make this roll is the Conn officer, and his ability to make that roll has nothing to do with his hand-eye cooridination.
In conclusion, breaking piloting away from agility is a major change to the most common RPG design paradigms.
I assure you, change is okay.
And, I believe that this change, if implemented, will lead to better game experience for everyone who plays this game.