05 June 2021

Actual Test: Shadow of the Spider Moon (Fantasy Space Combat Rules Part 1)

After my Calidar books arrived in the mail, I thought the time was ripe for testing the D&D space combat systems against one another to see which was most fun.

Current contenders for testing are: - Shadow of the Spider Moon (3.5e) - Aces High (5e, from Arcadia #3 by MCDM) - Spelljammer (AD&D) - Calidar (OD&D update) - Crawljammer (DCC - not pictured)

So setting up a scenario to see how all this works - I want something heavy and something light - heavy has to escape, light has to try and stop them; as a slow and heavy vs light and fast. Starting off with an estimate of simplicity of system by page count, we will start with Spider Moon, then Aces High, then classic Spelljammer then Calidar.

First up, Shadow of the Spider Moon, the 3.5e conversion published in Polygon #151 in 2002.

Looking at Spider Moon we will take a Deathspider and a Warbird as our heavy and light; we will use the same pair for Aces High since there has been no official flying ships update yet and the damage from a ballista has stayed more or less constant. For classic Spelljammer we will swap out to a Nautiloid and a Damselfly, and for Calidar we will put the Star Phoenix up against the Lucky Deuce.

The objective for the heavy will be to get along the length of an hex-grid 36 hexes long.

So - test 1 - Shadow of the Spider Moon (3.5e) - turned out to be far more interesting than we thought. The first thing that became apparent was that there was not really a vertical altitude system despite having 'fly up, fly down' mechanics. We improvised a d% tracker and declared that each point of difference on this altitude tracker was the same as another hex of distance for the purpose of range. It also gave the Deathspider another win condition of getting to 36 increment on its altitude.

Second modification was switching out the cannons on the Deathspider (2 heavy, 2 light) for ballistae of the same weights to give a better track across systems. Everything has ballistae, not all had cannon.

Turn 1 the Warbird closed and took shots with its forward light ballistae. Here we got our first look at how effective the hull hardness damage reduction was - shaving 6 points off every 3d6 hit. The Deathspider turned to bring forward battery to hear and hit the Warbird twice, a light and a heavy and got a great damage roll. Even with hull hardness 10, the Warbird lost half hull points at end round 1. Things looked grim.

From here, the Warbird got smart and took advantage of the Deathspiders limited weapon arcs and the Warbirds superior maneuverability. As the Deathspider drove for the edge of the map, they could get the Warbird into rear arc 1 in 2 turns and then missed most of their shots. At first the Deathspider captain was not worried, trusting to a massive 120 hull points and 6 hull hardness to just brazen out the damage until they could knock out the pesky Warbird or just escape.

Round 8 the Warbird landed a crit, x3 with ballistae, knocking off 1/4 of the Deathspiders hull. Now the Deathspider too was at half hull points. Potshots at the Warbird continued to miss while the return fire against the Colossal Deathspider (AC 8) could hardly fail to hit. Suddenly the edge of the board looked very far away.

2 rounds later the Warbird lands another crit and suddenly things are looking bad indeed for the Deathspider with only 2 hullpoints remaining. The Deathspider pulled crew off its (useless) forward weapons and set them to work repairing things - which it could now do as it was below 50% hull points. With all available hands at damage control, the hull is stuck back together just enough to allow it to weather another round of fire.

Just as the Deathspider captain is giving up hope the rear ballistae crew that have been stolidly plunking away at their pursuer land their first shot of the battle - a crit. The heavy ballistae bolt deals almost as much damage as the Warbird had original hullpoints - crippling the already damaged Warbird and buying the Deathspider space to limp away on its 2 hullpoints.

So - 11 rounds of combat, far closer than we had anticipated, lots more fun than I had feared it might be. The huge block of the Shadow of the Spider Moon rules about maneuverability and piloting rolls did not see much use - the Warbird was agile enough and the Deathspider needed speed more than it needed additional turn capability. We failed to use 'full move' actions - which the Deathspider captain would have loved to have realised was available. Altitude got some use, particularly as we were still in a gravity well so sacrificing altitude for speed was a possibility - and used by both sides.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by how useable the Shadow of the Spider Moon ruleset was - certainly at 34 pages in Polyhedron #151 / Dungeon #92 you get a lot of bang for buck.

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