6
votes
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I am looking for a Sci-Fi combat system that is versatile and reasonably fast-paced. I'd like it to be as streamlined as possible, but won't be to scared by complexity if it's well justified.

Background:

I ran a Call-of-Cthulhu based (hard-ish) sci-fi adventure. I like percentile dice and tension that comes with low power. However I also wanted combat-heavy setting (all players were space marines, similar to those from Aliens universe), so I gave them a lot of tactical options, like different armor, optical camouflage, UV goggles, medkits, insta-heal (gives 50% penalty to all skills) etc. to boost survivability.

I focused more on good tactical decisions than luck.

Obviously CoC is not very combat oriented system so I did a lot of modifying it and making my own rules to account for

  • encumbrance
  • fatigue
  • non-lethal damage (for example when armour absorbs damage, it still translates to fatigue)
  • body-part specific damage
  • different effects of work equipment (i.e. helmets remove peripheral vision...)
  • implants (modifying stats)
  • stimpacks (temporary boost of stats)
  • penalties on all stats depending on overall physical condition of a player

Obviously, adding all of this sometimes slowed down the pacing of combat, and some calculations were difficult to make (having stims bonus and low health penalty at the same time, then accounting for other battlefield conditions). But I liked the "realism" very much.

I'd like to find a system that has as many of these options already included with simple rules, and where making a mistake is unforgiving (i.e. NOT D&D like). I do not expect to find all of this in one system, I'd be willing to sacrifice some of the realism for simplicity, or at least to find a system that is easier to modify to my preferences than base CoC.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by SevenSidedDie Aug 17 '15 at 19:21

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you aware that CoC & its percentile siblings were used to create a universal/generic RPG toolkit system called BRP? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 12 '14 at 16:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, are you aware of Delta Green aka "modern CoC"? If you are aware of these but don't consider them suitable, that is worth mentioning in the question. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 12 '14 at 16:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Anyone have enough experience with Star Hero to post an answer? I know that the Hero System can be configured this way, but I have not used those options enough to know how much they slow down the game. \$\endgroup\$ – Bradd Szonye Nov 12 '14 at 21:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ How sci-fi are we talking about? Is Eclipse phase out of spec? \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 12 '14 at 22:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie While I was aware of Delta Green at the time when I ran my last session, and had adopted some of the ideas, that system did not really cover most things that I needed -or at least it seemed so to me. However I did give it another read now that you have mentioned it, and I've read the rules meant for beta-testing 4th edition of Delta Green. While it does not provide for clear rules about encumbrance and applying damage reduced by armour to fatigue, I've found that mechanic for death damage and suppressive fire in these rules will in fact suit most situations in my setting \$\endgroup\$ – Demian Thule Nov 15 '14 at 11:55
7
votes
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GURPS

You are describing GURPS.

Gear

All the gear you want (and much, much more) is available in either the basic set or various supplements like High Tech, Ultra Tech, or Biotech.

Rules

GURPS can provide a highly tactical combat system. You can play on a hex grid or without a map, whatever you prefer. But many combat options and situations are covered with an emphasis on realism and simulation. Let's take your points:

encumbrance

GURPS has had realistic encumbrance rules for decades. Being overloaded impacts your speed, costs fatigue, and more.

fatigue

GURPS has separated fatigue from injury since its earliest incarnations. Too much fatigue can become injury, even.

non-lethal damage (for example when armour absorbs damage, it still translates to fatigue)

Blunt trauma from non-penetrating damage through flexible armor is part of the base combat rules. If you want a variant that makes it fatigue instead, you can easily do so.

body-part specific damage

GURPS has rules for crippling damage and location-specific (heart, brain, etc.,) damage multipliers.

different effects of work equipment (i.e. helmets remove peripheral vision...)

GURPS has all kinds of equipment. Helmets have incurred a perception penalty since the earliest games. I'm sure you can reduce the width of the "front" facing in certain helmets if that rule is not already included.

implants (modifying stats)

GURPS has had extensive cyber and bio tech enhancement rules since the 90s.

stimpacks (temporary boost of stats)

GURPS has rules for all kinds of drugs and medicines, and makes it simple to model whatever effects you want for a particular drug.

penalties on all stats depending on overall physical condition of a player

GURPS provides rules for overall condition starting at 1/3 of full hit points remaining.

making a mistake is unforgiving

In GURPS, whenever you take damage, you suffer shock, reducing your rolls proportionally to the injury suffered on your next turn. So yes, mistakes have consequences. In a real fight, the winner is frequently the first one to score a meaningful hit. So it goes here.

with simple rules

GURPS runs all on six-sided dice. Almost every roll except for damage is a 3d6-roll-under mechanic. Resolution systems are totally unified, the system is applied the same everywhere. Once you grok GURPS, you will find that your ad-hoc rulings will greatly resemble the official rule, because the system is rational and consistent.

If you want thorough simulation and tactical detail, you will be hard pressed to do better than GURPS.

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4
votes
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Obviously CoC is not very combat oriented system so I did a lot of modifying it and making my own rules to account for

  • encumbrance
  • fatigue
  • non-lethal damage (for example when armour absorbs damage, it still translates to fatigue) body-part specific damage
  • different effects of work equipment (i.e. helmets remove peripheral vision...)
  • implants (modifying stats)
  • stimpacks (temporary boost of stats)
  • penalties on all stats depending on overall physical condition of a player

These aspects, combined with the fact that they both use percentile dice as the fundamental dice for all rolls, are all found in Dark Heresy. Implants, drugs, fatigue and fatigue damage, and to a certain lesser degree encumbrance are all important parts of the setting.

Critical Effects might be the most appealing part of the rules to you. When you reach zero Wounds (hit points), you do not die, or even take penalties. Instead, damage from then on is resolved on the "Critical Effects" table, as your critical damage (negative hit points) accumulate. The tables differ with damage types; some are more dangerous than others (for instance, explosive damage can kill you at only 6-ish critical damage from its effects, whereas impact and energy usually only kill you on an 8 or higher). They also differ depending on the body part hit. These effects vary from "the impact knocks the wind out of your lungs; lose a half-action next turn" to "your head was pulverized and gore pours out forcing everyone who moves within d5 meters of where you died to make an Agility test not to slip and fall down".

Dark Heresy is the Fantasy Flight Games ruleset for Warhammer 40,000. You wanted hard sci-fi and I wouldn't exactly call WH40k hard (although I think the setting is malleable enough for it if you're willing to come up with some stuff), but it exhibits literally every other feature you listed.

EDIT: In keeping with the mods' rules now added to the question, I guess I will elaborate by saying that I've played Dark Heresy 1st ed for over a year on a continuous campaign, and right now I'm GMing a 2nd ed campaign. We ended up houseruling a lot of combat stuff for the 1st ed, but 2nd ed has annoyed me with the incredibly unnecessary and confusing overlap of skill usage. Some of the examples cited for easy/difficult tasks are nearly identical across different skills -- I believe Scrutiny and Awareness come to mind. Social skills are also quite confusing; what social skill do I roll for a psyker who has falsified documentation stating he's from the League of Black Ships trying to assert his false authority? Normally it would be Influence, but that doesn't make sense because your Influence doesn't get changed when you falsify an identity. We've only just started, though, so I feel confident that things will get better. I think this is the biggest pitfall of Dark Heresy 2nd ed currently so keep that in mind when deciding on what to play. I still enjoy it highly, though. The only other gripe I have is that in the process of streamlining the psychic powers, they made them a bit blander. Also, I don't know if I agree with the secondary stat requirements for a lot of the psychic powers.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I believe there's another game in the WH40K universe that focuses on space marines, but I don't know what it's called. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Nov 13 '14 at 3:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Deathwatch, also produced by FFG. It's good, but it didn't seem like what the OP wanted; it focuses on tactical decisions and combat maneuvers and the Marines themselves are so powerful as to not really warrant using drugs, whereas he seemed to want something where the players were more vulnerable and had to manage their resources more carefully. \$\endgroup\$ – Lucas Leblanc Nov 13 '14 at 17:08
1
vote
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AFMBE (All flesh must be eaten) fullfills most of the points you listed. Even though at first glance it is a game about zombies and non zombies set in modern days there is more to it than that.

First of all it works quite fine even without zombies getting involved (only thing I myself had to get used to is a skill....persuasion as such is not a skill....it is splitted into smooth talk and intimidation). Also through different source books it is fully useable for scifi and fantasy settings without problems.

I'll go into the points you set up one by one:

  1. AFMBE: Like mentioned even though AFMBE itself is made for zombie apocalypse games it can be easily used without any zombies at all and just normal mortals appearing (used it both ways myself without problems....for modern and also fantasy settings so far).

  2. Versatility: The rules are based on the generic Unisystem rules. These are designed to fit for any system. So what makes AFMBE there? It explains the basic rules in the core rulebook and also provides full stats and rules to play in a modern setting. In addition to this there are books for each type of setting you may want to play in which gives rules specific for these settings and also possible campaigns. Examples are below. In essence for each possible setting there is a book that introduces all rules necessary to play in that setting (and you only need the core rules and ONE book for a non modern setting. Or just the core rules for a modern one).

    • "All tomorrow Zombies" gives complete rules to play in scifi settings be it near future worlds like in shadow run till worlds like in star wars. It has complete rules for easy and fast creation of star ships and starship combat and also equipment for scifi settings and psionic rules that are akin to...jedi.
    • "Dungeons and zombies" Gives rules for playing in a fantasy environment. Be it with just humans or also with other species around (elves, minotaurs,...). It provides one with easy to use rules to create professions and also species themselves.
    • "Band of zombies" provides rules for warfare including naval warfare, but also air battles and tactical combat AND provides rules for shell shock.
    • ...
  3. Pacing: AFMBE is quite fast paced in terms of dice rolls. There are 3 types of rolls: Easy attribute only rolls, hard attribute only rolls and skill rolls. The rolls themselves are 1d10 + 2x attribute, 1d10 + attribute, 1d10 + attribute + skill. The only complicated thing is if you roll a 10 or 1 as you roll again then and it can be that your roll gets higher or lower. After the roll result is gotten you can see from a table what your level of success is. And that is it. Combat additionally has rules for either rolling damage (dice type depending on the attack/weapon) and armor. Although it also has rules for NOT rolling them and instead using default values for the attacks/weapons/armor to increase the pacing. Thus it is quite fast. I dare say almost as fast as D&D in terms of dice rolls and as it does not have the multitude of special rules one has to keep in mind for combat in D&D it is way faster in combat. Also the pacing in combat can be increased by taking a default value of 5 for the dice roll of the defender instead of rolling it out.

  4. Encumberance, Fatigue,...: The core rules present rules (all optional naturally) for Fear, but also for encumberance and stamina and fatigue. It goes so far that you even can knock yourself out by just not being able to get any sleep or worse getting a heart attack because you are just too much afraid. Or you can get insane. The book "band of brothers" builds on this and introduces additional shell shock rules.

  5. Combat and grittyness: AFMBE is a deadly system even with no zombies involved. If you have no armor and are attacked with weapons....you either need to hide behind something or you are as good as dead. You can even bleed to dead if striken by a sword and not getting medical help soon enough. The combat rules include almost everything you want to do in combat and also things like attacking non lethally or targeting specific body parts (with appropriate effects) are included. Also if you are fatigued or getting hurt too much (last 5 hit points) you get penalties on all your rolls.

  6. Implants, stimpacks, ...: The core rules cover rules for diseases, poisons,... while All tomorrow zombies has rules for gaining enhancements (genetic modifications, cybernetic implants, nanoware implants) and also has rules covering things like medkits,...

AFMBE (All flesh must be eaten) fullfills most of the points you listed. Even though at first glance it is a game about zombies and non zombies set in modern days there is more to it than that.

First of all it works quite fine even without zombies getting involved (only thing I myself had to get used to is a skill....persuasion as such is not a skill....it is splitted into smooth talk and intimidation). Also through different source books it is fully useable for scifi and fantasy settings without problems.

I'll go into the points you set up one by one:

  1. AFMBE: Like mentioned even though AFMBE itself is made for zombie apocalypse games it can be easily used without any zombies at all and just normal mortals appearing (used it both ways myself without problems....for modern and also fantasy settings so far).

  2. Versatility: The rules are based on the generic Unisystem rules. These are designed to fit for any system. So what makes AFMBE there? It explains the basic rules in the core rulebook and also provides full stats and rules to play in a modern setting. In addition to this there are books for each type of setting you may want to play in which gives rules specific for these settings and also possible campaigns. Examples are below. In essence for each possible setting there is a book that introduces all rules necessary to play in that setting (and you only need the core rules and ONE book for a non modern setting. Or just the core rules for a modern one).

    • "All tomorrow Zombies" gives complete rules to play in scifi settings be it near future worlds like in shadow run till worlds like in star wars. It has complete rules for easy and fast creation of star ships and starship combat and also equipment for scifi settings and psionic rules that are akin to...jedi.
    • "Dungeons and zombies" Gives rules for playing in a fantasy environment. Be it with just humans or also with other species around (elves, minotaurs,...). It provides one with easy to use rules to create professions and also species themselves.
    • "Band of zombies" provides rules for warfare including naval warfare, but also air battles and tactical combat AND provides rules for shell shock.
    • ...
  3. Pacing: AFMBE is quite fast paced in terms of dice rolls. There are 3 types of rolls: Easy attribute only rolls, hard attribute only rolls and skill rolls. The rolls themselves are 1d10 + 2x attribute, 1d10 + attribute, 1d10 + attribute + skill. The only complicated thing is if you roll a 10 or 1 as you roll again then and it can be that your roll gets higher or lower. After the roll result is gotten you can see from a table what your level of success is. And that is it. Combat additionally has rules for either rolling damage (dice type depending on the attack/weapon) and armor. Although it also has rules for NOT rolling them and instead using default values for the attacks/weapons/armor to increase the pacing. Thus it is quite fast. I dare say almost as fast as D&D in terms of dice rolls and as it does not have the multitude of special rules one has to keep in mind for combat in D&D it is way faster in combat. Also the pacing in combat can be increased by taking a default value of 5 for the dice roll of the defender instead of rolling it out.

  4. Encumberance, Fatigue,...: The core rules present rules (all optional naturally) for Fear, but also for encumberance and stamina and fatigue. It goes so far that you even can knock yourself out by just not being able to get any sleep or worse getting a heart attack because you are just too much afraid. Or you can get insane. The book "band of brothers" builds on this and introduces additional shell shock rules.

  5. Combat and grittyness: AFMBE is a deadly system even with no zombies involved. If you have no armor and are attacked with weapons....you either need to hide behind something or you are as good as dead. You can even bleed to dead if striken by a sword and not getting medical help soon enough. The combat rules include almost everything you want to do in combat and also things like attacking non lethally or targeting specific body parts (with appropriate effects) are included. Also if you are fatigued or getting hurt too much (last 5 hit points) you get penalties on all your rolls. One thing though of note here: If you like full scale martial arts (realistic). Enter the zombie has the best martial arts rules I have ever seen. Featuring the ability to learn specific moves like doing jabs, throwing someone, flipping back onto your feet, ... .

  6. Implants, stimpacks, ...: The core rules cover rules for diseases, poisons,... while All tomorrow zombies has rules for gaining enhancements (genetic modifications, cybernetic implants, nanoware implants) and also has rules covering things like medkits,...

  7. Fast starts: Instead of creating a whole char there are so called archetypes that can be used. They are sort of predefined characters. Each book has a few of them for the settings they provide and there are additional ones covering almost every possible profession one can think of in 2 books about them (called book of archetypes and book of archetypes 2)

  8. Character creation and power level: AFMBE knows 2-3 powerlevels which can be chosen from for each character at char creation (with the possibility to just upgrade later on by giving the character the difference in attribute points and skill points,...). The basic one is a norm...everyday people you can call them. Then there are survivors...your typical heroes and then the inspired / powered chars who have less attributes / skills than survivors but on the other hand get supernatural powers.

  9. Even though you didn't mention it I'm not sure if it is a theme for your game or not. Psionics, Magic, ... . The core rules introduce a type of character called inspired who uses faith based powers. Some books like All tomorrow zombies feature rules for psionics and dungeons and zombies features rules for magic. And Enter the Zombie features rules for chi combat. These character types and rules are completely optional to use but feel pretty complete. Although the powers are quite strong they are not world breaking and thus there are no rules that allow a chi powered martial artist to destroy whole worlds with one chi shot. Thus the power level for these is low to medium I would say.

All in all I find AFMBE quite easy to use and fast paced. And quite realistic and gritty (even without zombies!). Only thing I noticed though is you have to have your char clearly in mind when you want to create it as it provides so many qualities and drawbacks to choose from and also skills that you can confuse yourself else.

For your specific setting that you mentioned in your post I would say the following books would suffice to represent what you want: Core rules, All tomorrow zombies and band of zombies (the later for the war / combat related things like shell shock,...) would be good. And if you like martial arts then also enter the zombie. Although only core rules and all tomorrow zombies would also make a good job there.

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-1
votes
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As far as Sci-Fi oriented rules-light systems go, I tend to prefer Technoir. Gameplay is largely descriptive which allows the rules to be both versatile and quick.

encumbrance

Characters are not expected to carry large amounts of equipment so this usually isn't an issue. There is no strength stat to work with anyway.

fatigue

Easily accomplishable with a sticky tag. Sticky tags stay around until the character takes appropriate steps to remove it. There's also fixed tags, which generally require replacements (for physical injuries) or extensive treatment (for psychological ones).

non-lethal damage (for example when armour absorbs damage, it still translates to fatigue)

There is no particular damage type, but armor works the same way as everything else in the system so you are free to dictate that, for instance, "bashing" damage is not resisted by hard armor.

body-part specific damage

That's actually how damage tends to work in this system. The player attempts to apply a negative tag, lets say "numb", to the target. They use some of their "boost dice" with the roll and succeed, so they decide to turn the tag into a sticky one, upgrading the descriptor from "numb" to "broken" and applying that tag to the arm. The targeted character now has a broken arm until they can take steps to fix it. The player could also have upgraded it to a fixed tag and made it "severed" or "pulverized" or another permanent-sounding descriptor, which would require the target player to replace their arm with a cybernetic substitute to fix.

different effects of work equipment (i.e. helmets remove peripheral vision...)

Equipment works with positive tags. Such both describe things that the equipment does as well as providing the potential for boosts when rolling. However, if you really wanted to it would be a relatively simple hack to include situationally negative tags in the equipment.

implants (modifying stats)

Implants are included. Some implants fix existing problems, others provide extra tags.

stimpacks (temporary boost of stats)

Drugs are included in the base rules.

penalties on all stats depending on overall physical condition of a player

Negative tags are actually pretty nasty, so yes.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think rules-light is anywhere what's being asked for. Despite saying "streamlined" once, being more combat-focused, complexity is acceptable, and the main goal being increasing realism relative to CoC don't add up to rules light, and any game of any complexity can usually benefit from streamlining. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 14 '14 at 16:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Conversely, NOT being rules light was not a requirement. The system accommodates all of the things being asked for, even if it doesn't include unique rules for each aspect. The thing is, including unique rules for every aspect of combat is the opposite of making a fast combat system as needing to reference a plethora of rules is almost exclusively the thing that slows down combat. \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Nov 14 '14 at 16:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps consider addressing realism—the motivation for the question—in the answer? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 14 '14 at 17:34

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