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AceSolo5

Com Links

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So the humble Com-Link, from a GM point of view... Total pain in the backside or, total pain in the backside?

I’d be interested in knowing how you deal with these... do you put restrictions on how they’re used when players decide to go somewhere other than the rest of the party then react to situations they “hear” as if they were there?

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Well, Star Wars comm links use all radio, not linked communication via a backbone like cellphones..

So unless encrypted (which some of the more expensive ones are) anyone with a commlink nearby can potentially listen in, and if encrypted, can still be broken (eg the 400 cr DH77 Headcomm adds three setbacks to decryption, it is not immune from decryption).

They are also won't work well, potentially, in caves, buildings with thick walls, anywhere with radio interference, inside metal containers, anywhere near a radio jammer etc. So that short range may go down significantly (assuming they aren't using the backpack sized large version.

Plus of course anyone nearby can simply hear at least one side of the conversation, but you won't necessarily hear enough of the background to tell what is going on and react, or it may be so loud you can't hear what is going on!

As a player I assume that anything I say on a Commlink is potentially known by any enemy, so I avoid them where possible.

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I personally don't mind, even encourage it so their character can react to things happening in the parallel scenes. I use it frequently, I feel it more movie like, action happening in more places, converging to a single merged scene at the end of the session. According to this, I treat it as "turnt on", unless it's specified otherwise.

For example I would totally make my player choose another way, if he/she can't possibly hear that from the others (jammed, underground, robbed, other plot point). In this case I would ask him, to take a road without considering that particular information his/her character can't possibly know. It worked so far.

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Theoretically, I would want to restrict information sharing. But in play, my players huddle and work out solutions as a group, then encourage the acting players as their characters carry out a plan. I can't come up with a good reason to limit this spontaneous immersion in my game, so I allow it.

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2 hours ago, Darzil said:

Well, Star Wars comm links use all radio, not linked communication via a backbone like cellphones..

So unless encrypted (which some of the more expensive ones are) anyone with a commlink nearby can potentially listen in, and if encrypted, can still be broken (eg the 400 cr DH77 Headcomm adds three setbacks to decryption, it is not immune from decryption).

They are also won't work well, potentially, in caves, buildings with thick walls, anywhere with radio interference, inside metal containers, anywhere near a radio jammer etc. So that short range may go down significantly (assuming they aren't using the backpack sized large version.

Plus of course anyone nearby can simply hear at least one side of the conversation, but you won't necessarily hear enough of the background to tell what is going on and react, or it may be so loud you can't hear what is going on!

As a player I assume that anything I say on a Commlink is potentially known by any enemy, so I avoid them where possible.

I love your take on this.

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3 hours ago, AceSolo5 said:

when players decide to go somewhere other than the rest of the party then react to situations they “hear” as if they were there?

- player on overwatch listening in trying to figure out when to start shooting

Add setback to your initiative check.

 

- player listening in to try and keep up with the adventure while doing something else/avoiding personal risk

I'll need a vigilance check for you to respond in time, oh and that vigilance check and your skill check for the other thing you are doing both have setbacks because of your divided attention.

 

- player responding to a conversation on the other end

Suddenly your commlink crackles to life and Droung's voice comes out saying (whatever was just said) loud enough for everyone within a dozen meters to hear. The Hutt you are negotiating with is not pleased...

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5 hours ago, AceSolo5 said:

So the humble Com-Link, from a GM point of view... Total pain in the backside or, total pain in the backside?

I’d be interested in knowing how you deal with these... do you put restrictions on how they’re used when players decide to go somewhere other than the rest of the party then react to situations they “hear” as if they were there?

I treat like any comms. If an opponent doesn't want comms in an area there will be jamming. If the weather or planetary magnetic field are crummy range will be limited. Comms can be intercepted and monitored also. I know it's not a focus in Star Wars which is too bad because COMSEC SIGINT is whole layer of stuff a tech PC could be into.

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Cheers for the responses... definitely gives me some ideas with how to deal with it!

I try & keep a Star Wars feel to my games & really the only com links I can remember are the round hand held ones that look like they were made out of a cheap plastic torch or the flat ones with little aerials sticking out the top from the prequels ?

Granted I did give them ear bud comms (so that’s my own fault) but I do struggle with em treating it like they in the same room as the conversation is happening in!

Loving the ideas about jamming signals (which I have used) & especially the weather conditions having an effect! Have to admit tho I’d forgotten about other people listening in, and applying setback to skill rolls due to their attention being divided... those are definitely getting used? 

Awesome stuff... Thanks again!!

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I think you would also be justified in saying they aren't gonna work cause Story. I kind of feel like comlinks and the HoloNet are technology that is beholden to the needs of the story. Threepio! Come in Threepio! Where could he be?

Edited by Archlyte

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As someone who was a radio operator in the Army, communication radios (and, by extension, comlinks) have different frequencies they can be set to. And, in particular, for secure communication, would use frequency hopping technology so that only those radios (or comlinks) using the same frequency hop settings would be able to communicate. 

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And as someone who worked the intercept side of radio comms when I was in the army, if someone was rude enough not to let us listen in, we would call up DIVARTY and have them express our displeasure. 

So remember that when you are playing AoR. If the players are talking on the comlinks too much for your taste, have the nearest Star Destroyer say 'Hi' with a bit of orbital bombardment.

:D

Edited by korjik

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19 hours ago, AceSolo5 said:

Granted I did give them ear bud comms (so that’s my own fault) but I do struggle with em treating it like they in the same room as the conversation is happening in!

Depending on the situation, work with this.

Add a setback on perception or vigilance checks to hear things as one ear is basically plugged with the comlink.

If the room is quiet, and the guy on the other end is loud, they may be able to be heard. Also Feedback is pretty terrible on those things, being so loud they can be easily heard, and force a reaction of the wearer, possibly even doing temporary damage (one setback for the rest for the rest of the encounter for the ringing in your ear.).

Also don't forget other narratives. If they are going in to make a shady deal, and get caught wearing them... nothing says undercover cop like hidden comms. Spying on someone? If you're sitting at a bistro chatting on a civilian comm it's obvious, but also not unusual. But talking to yourself or into your cuff... well now it's harder to notice, but when they do notice you're totally blown. Jump off the bridge into the river? It's a good bet that earbud is coming out and floating away.

 

And I'm not picking on the earbuds. This system works well with the "right tool for the job," which is why a lot of gear doesn't even have serious stats. Look at what's going on where and apply setbacks. In a tight urban shootout? That rifle and heavy blaster rifle is huge, moving it around in a building is not easy, so there's some setbacks. That short little carbine on the other hand is practically built for tight conditions, no setback.

By the same note earbuds have a time and place where they are the right tool for the job. Other times you need a long-range comm, or a hardened comm, or a highly encrypted comm. So look at it like that.

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As a GM, I Love comlinks.  My group tends to split up way too often (Usually to cover more ground) and the comlinks keep the groups connected.

Although there was the one time when the team of 5 was on an operation and hadn't provided transportation and tried using "taxi's" to continue their pursuit.  3 people per taxi.  What are you doing now?  :rolleyes:.  It was a wonderful messy engagement.  Lots of fun for everyone.  Comlinks made it possible for the whole group to eventually get into the same engagement zone.

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On ‎9‎/‎3‎/‎2018 at 4:48 PM, Tramp Graphics said:

As someone who was a radio operator in the Army, communication radios (and, by extension, comlinks) have different frequencies they can be set to. And, in particular, for secure communication, would use frequency hopping technology so that only those radios (or comlinks) using the same frequency hop settings would be able to communicate. 

Right on Tramp, I wasn't a radio operator but I had to sleep with it a few times :). I'm old enough that I'm talking about a PRC-77. I like the Freq Hop idea and for military comlinks I usually just figure they have that because it makes sense most of the time. I also feel like there are artificial gravity floor fields, strange energy emissions form power sources, and loser slicers trying to use wireless connections instead of manning up and making a hard connection :)

All of that seems like a lot of potential interference and noise. Do you feel like having comlinks be vulnerable to listening in and also having signal issues is too much of a bummer? Just curious.    

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14 hours ago, Ghostofman said:

Depending on the situation, work with this.

Add a setback on perception or vigilance checks to hear things as one ear is basically plugged with the comlink.

If the room is quiet, and the guy on the other end is loud, they may be able to be heard. Also Feedback is pretty terrible on those things, being so loud they can be easily heard, and force a reaction of the wearer, possibly even doing temporary damage (one setback for the rest for the rest of the encounter for the ringing in your ear.).

Also don't forget other narratives. If they are going in to make a shady deal, and get caught wearing them... nothing says undercover cop like hidden comms. Spying on someone? If you're sitting at a bistro chatting on a civilian comm it's obvious, but also not unusual. But talking to yourself or into your cuff... well now it's harder to notice, but when they do notice you're totally blown. Jump off the bridge into the river? It's a good bet that earbud is coming out and floating away.

 

And I'm not picking on the earbuds. This system works well with the "right tool for the job," which is why a lot of gear doesn't even have serious stats. Look at what's going on where and apply setbacks. In a tight urban shootout? That rifle and heavy blaster rifle is huge, moving it around in a building is not easy, so there's some setbacks. That short little carbine on the other hand is practically built for tight conditions, no setback.

By the same note earbuds have a time and place where they are the right tool for the job. Other times you need a long-range comm, or a hardened comm, or a highly encrypted comm. So look at it like that.

All of this is really good stuff Ghostofman... I’ll definitely be using this!

I have to admit, whilst I do use setback dice I definitely don’t think I use them enough, especially in situations like these! It’s something I’m definitely going to be using more often after reading the responses here though! If it works as a mild deterrent to treating a com link as being in the same room as where the conversation is happening it’s gotta be a good thing! 

Many thanks!!

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I think part of the opposition against com-links is based on the old days of DnD and similar systems where communication between a split party hinges on special spells and splitting the party is seen as a truly bad thing. Settings that have access to more widely available communication systems don't really play by the same rules, not when it comes to the hardships of communication or when it comes to splitting the party.

 

While there can be problems stemming from com-links in this system, primarily from people who want to play as "the guy in the chair" and not suffer any risk, in my mind these are outweighed by player participation. Com-links opens up for people who are not present in a scene to interact with someone involved in it, if these people have their com-link on and it seems logical in terms of play. Someone might have their shopping trip interrupted because their partners get mugged elsewhere in the city, they will have to judge whether or not it's worth interrupting their own business to try to intervene. This way they're not truly separated when they're split up, they're still a unit and can still interact with each other as well as react to what's going on elsewhere. In my mind this doesn't hurt the play, rather it expands on the possibilities open to the players as well as the GM and can be used to further a story and include players rather than exclude them.

 

Player choices and opinions are also something to consider in this. They get the choice of whether or not they're available for  a com-link call, although the GM can of course flip a token to make sure they can't reach each other if they deem it to be important to the story. This way the players can also get their own scenes where other people don't interfere, and sometimes the story is simply made more interesting by communication difficulties. By placing all of these tools in the hands of both the GM and the players we can forge a more interesting and inclusive story together. Which is really what role-playing comes down to, creating a story together.

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14 hours ago, Archlyte said:

Right on Tramp, I wasn't a radio operator but I had to sleep with it a few times :). I'm old enough that I'm talking about a PRC-77. I like the Freq Hop idea and for military comlinks I usually just figure they have that because it makes sense most of the time. I also feel like there are artificial gravity floor fields, strange energy emissions form power sources, and loser slicers trying to use wireless connections instead of manning up and making a hard connection :)

All of that seems like a lot of potential interference and noise. Do you feel like having comlinks be vulnerable to listening in and also having signal issues is too much of a bummer? Just curious.    

Yeah, my original MOS was a Single Channel Radio Teletype (RATT) operator, which was encrypted radio communications. When they phased that out, I was retrained for MSE (Multiple Subscriber Equipment), which was brand new at the time, but is now aging and being phased out for an even newer system. 

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The other thing that I do as a "evil" GM is that I MAKE the players RP out the Comm Traffic.

Me: What are you going to tell Apex on the comms?

Player playing Tank: "I catch him up to speed on what I just discovered."

Me: "Oh no!  What does TANK say to Apex?" . . .  <Where did my evil Devil smiley go?!?!?! >  HappyDaze?  Teach a man how to fish?

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On 9/4/2018 at 11:39 AM, Mark Caliber said:

As a GM, I Love comlinks.  My group tends to split up way too often (Usually to cover more ground) and the comlinks keep the groups connected.

This.  It's very Star Wars for everybody to be able to communicate...until they can't because *plot*.  Plus it facilitates breaking up the party in a way that's more manageable.

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19 minutes ago, whafrog said:

This.  It's very Star Wars for everybody to be able to communicate...until they can't because *plot*.  Plus it facilitates breaking up the party in a way that's more manageable.

I like this explanation, but I feel compelled to put in that it isn't about having long discussions and acting like the group is in the same room imo. The awareness is going to be nil and each party can only know what is going on by being told or by really recognizable sounds. I get irritated when they try to have meetings over the comlinks when they could have just stayed together for a better discussion scene. 

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On 9/3/2018 at 9:41 AM, Darzil said:

Well, Star Wars comm links use all radio, not linked communication via a backbone like cellphones..

I would allow comlinks to integrate into local communication "backbones" such as everyone on a capital ship or small colony. For bigger areas (like trying to sort through the comm directory of Coruscant) it's going to be a mess.

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37 minutes ago, Archlyte said:

I like this explanation, but I feel compelled to put in that it isn't about having long discussions and acting like the group is in the same room imo. The awareness is going to be nil and each party can only know what is going on by being told or by really recognizable sounds. I get irritated when they try to have meetings over the comlinks when they could have just stayed together for a better discussion scene. 

Well, if they have time for long-winded discussions, there's not really any pressure, so why does it matter?  That's often a good moment for a "screen wipe", just settle all the "issues" OOC, until the fade-in happens and the pressure gets real.

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8 minutes ago, HappyDaze said:

I would allow comlinks to integrate into local communication "backbones" such as everyone on a capital ship or small colony. For bigger areas (like trying to sort through the comm directory of Coruscant) it's going to be a mess.

I wonder how much value people get out of micro-managing this kind of thing.  All the media seems to show that comms are expected to "just work", and when they don't all the heroes seem to have a little crisis about "jamming" or some kind of interference, and then the task for the team, or at least part of the team, is to resolve it.  It's entirely up to the GM when these crises happen, which is what makes it fun ?  So it's entirely reasonable to let the default be "working", and then just leverage outages when you need them.

Comms are like the Ravens of Game of Thrones (but faster)...the default is they get where they're supposed to go, unless there is something nefarious going on specifically targeting the PCs.

 

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