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Help with Balance in Space Battle

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I know this will sound crazy but my RT game has been running for 3 months (every other week) but my group has yet to get into a real space battle. This is because the group prefers to do all fighting, negotiating, and what-not planetside and only now have the stakes become big enough that macrocannons must be involved.

On the PC side we have 4 frigates and possibly support from a station with one or two macrocannons (depends on negotiations and distance from base where battle is fought).

On the NPC side we have a cruiser and any amount of ships necessary to make this a challenging encounter.

I would prefer not to put another cruiser or a light cruiser on the enemy side because the PCs have scouted the enemy fleet and they only found one ship more powerful than a frigate (the cruiser obviously). This means the enemy group will most likely have a few raiders and possibly some cruisers.

What should I put in to balance the encounter?

Thanks in advance.

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The competence of the crew, and the equipment of the ship, matters FAR more than the number of ships. A ship that can consistently make those piloting tests, succeed in hit-and-runs, and get max hits from their lances and macro-cannons is worth 2 or three that can't.

A cruiser and two frigates, properly set-up, will be plenty to give the PCs a very real chance of losing. A cruiser and 6 frigates with a merely competent crew and limited equipment won't stand a chance.

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 do a few practise runs of what would happen with different enemies, youll have some idea then of the capabilities of ships in real combat.

after that, prepare some backup plans in case things go wrong - PCs are suddenly outnumbered? maybe have reinforcements arrive. PCs wipe out the enemy. have a couple of engine failures. 

dont alter the outcome of the battle, but if its becoming a cakewalk, mix things up a bit to keep it tense.

 

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I agree that the crew skill matters a lot, and so does equipment.  I've seen one PC-crewed Lunar cruiser take on a wolfpack of thirteen frigates and win.  Admittedly, the Lunar was pretty shot up afterward...  Suggest you play a couple practice scenarios to see how it balances.  

Assuming NPC's of skill 30, maybe a Dauntless plus 3 - 4 wolfpack raiders would balance? 

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I would also look at how available lances are on both sides.

In my experience, my PCs have often squished multiple enemies in their cruiser as after the voids take a pair of hits off an enemy, the armour can soak multiple macro cannon shots. A wolfpack raider with a single macrocannon and a single lance however, can reliably inflict hull damage on most turns.

 

 

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Another point to consider is that even if you make an enemy too powerful for the group, as long as the players deal SOME damage the enemy vessel may decide to break off rather than press an attack. THis is especially true for raiders and the like who likely can't afford to repair their ships that easily.

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A group of well skilled, multiple career PC's that actually know the rules and a resonable grasp of tactics can punch well above their weight. Main concern you have particually big ships is that they don't turn very well and rely on their escorts to cover the areas their guns can't and an enemy can. The other thing to bear in mind is that smaller ships rely on their speed to get in, hit them and get back out of weapons range before the favour can be returned, another use for escorts is to make their job as difficult as possible in that regard.

But as other have said, they might be iron ships but they run on blood and guts.

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Thanks for all the advice. Luckily I used a few spare ships some players made and ran a few practice runs.

Unfortunately most of my players do not know the rules for space combat and I will be teaching them the rules tomorrow. As of now I have a raider with NPC rating 50, another raider and frigate to flesh out the NPC side. One of the players, a crazy explorator who recently found a cache of archeotech and Dark Age items, may suddenly find a nuke if the battle becomes too lopsided.

Any last comment before I run this tomorrow?

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