Character Generation

posted by LatwPIAT Original SA post

The Phoenix Command Small Arms Combat System , or "PCCS" for short, is... not actually a role-playing game. It's a tabletop miniatures wargame for modern squad-level firearms combat. However, it mentions that it could be used together with an RPG if you want Realism!, so I'll talk about it here anyway. Especially since RPG players tend to talk about it in hushed voices and parade it around as an example of realism gone too far.

When people talk about the horrors that are PCCS, then tend to talk about things like this:

(Image not by me)

Tables. Tables. Oh so many tables. (The tables are far from the worst part of the game.)

Chapter 1: The Character

Chapter 1.2 tells you that your character has five characteristics; Strength, Intelligence, Will, Health, and Agility. Chapter 1.3 tells you that your character has six characteristics; the five aforementioned and Gun Combat Skill Level (GCSL). Editing is not really one of PCCS' strong points.

So, what are our characteristics?

Strength (STR): Your physical strength. The game mentions that high strength makes you capable of lifting more. It fails to tell you that high strength makes you move faster.
Intelligence (INT): Your mental dexterity. The game mentions that Intelligence makes you better at combat by making you faster.
Will (WIL): Your resolve and willpower. The game mentions that Will makes you hurt less and be less scared when the bullets start flying.
Health (HLT): Your "physical health". The game mentions that it helps you recover from wounds. It doesn't actually have any other effects related to how healthy you are...
Agility (AGL): "Physical coordination and speed." While it's true that Agility makes you move faster, in the core PCCS, coordination doesn't really matter that much.
Gun Combat Skill Level (GCSL): Your "ability". What the game fails to mention is what GCSL actually does. Like, at all. I guess we can infer that it makes you shoot better, but GCSL isn't actually explained anywhere.

In short:
STR: Move faster and lift more
INT: Move faster (Usain Bolt: Supergenius!)
WIL: Get knocked unconscious less
HLT: Get knocked unconscious less and die slightly slower
AGL: Move faster
GCSL: Move faster, shoot better, and get knocked unconscious less

As you can see, there's a certain level of redundancy here. Which would perhaps be fine, were it not for the fact that some characteristics do the exact same thing, like INT and AGL. All characteristics are generated by rolling 3d6, except for GCSL, which is arbitrarily set by the GM. The game says that 10 in a characteristic is "average", which is somewhat amusing since the average of 3d6 is 10.5. It also helpfully tells us that 12 in a characteristic is "Above Average", as if that didn't actually follow from the definition of what an "average" is.

Then comes calculating all the derived characteristics! Oh boy! I hope you like multiplication. And looking up stuff in tables!

"How do you expect me to fight with this helmet on? And this ammo weighs a ton!" - Humbert NoDose

First we have to total up the weight of all the stuff our character is carrying, in pounds. This is a bit difficult since we haven't been told how gear works just yet. Then we have to cross-index our Encumbrance and our Strength on Table 1A (table-count: 1) to find our "Base Speed". The characteristic Base Speed is never used for anything in the actual game. For some reason, Table 1A has STR values from 1 to 21, despite a PCCS character being unable to have a STR lower than 3 or higher than 18. (It is useful if you're using PCCS with another system though.)

Then we cross-index our Base Speed and our Agility on Table 1B (table-count: 2) to find out "Maximum Speed". The characteristics Maximum Speed is also never used for anything in the actual game. In a different PCCS-based game there's a rule that says you can't move faster than your Maximum Speed per 2-second combat turn, but this is not actually a rule in PCCS, for some odd reason. The range of AGLs is 1 to 21, despite your character's AGL being the result of 3d6.

Then we look up our Gun Combat Skill Level in Table 1C (*ding!*) to find out Skill Accuracy Level (SAL). You can tell this is an 80's game by how everything is abbreviated. SAL is basically just GCSL+6, so one has to wonder a bit why PCCS bothers to have the two be separate in the first place.

"Blam. Blam. 'Stop.' Blam. 'Police.' Blam." - Officer Axly. (Axly will appear many times in the PCCS games, almost always as an example of what not to do.)

Then we have to figure out our Intelligence Skill Factor (ISF), which is GCSL+INT. We were thankfully saved having to use a table for this.

Then comes figuring out our actual number of combat actions. A cookie to everyone who figured out that this would require cross-referencing values in a table before I said so. You have to cross-reference you ISF and your Maximum Speed in Table 1D (*ding!*) to find your number of Combat Actions per combat turn. Table 1D doesn't have the complete range of Intelligence Skill Factors though, and doesn't say whether we should round up or down when indexing. Each combat turn (called a "phase") is two seconds long, and divided into four half-second turns called "impulses". To figure out how many combat turns we have per in each of the four impulses, we have to index our Combat Actions in Table 1E (*ding*) Table 1D maxes out at 24 Combat Actions, but Table 1E just goes to 21, so what happens when you have 22 Combat Actions is not explained.

The last step is figuring out our Knockout Value (KV), which is 0.5*GCSL*WIL. If our Gun Combat Skill Level is 0, our KV is also 0 and our character will have a 1% chance to not get knocked unconscious from papercuts. Guns are everything in the world of PCCS.

"A Bullet in the arm // Does very little harm. // A bullet in the head // Can make your very dead" - Fred the Singing Bandit (sic)

The rest of the chapter contains an explanation of all the stats of your gun, a list of weights for various items, armour values for various kinds of gear, and some pregen characters. Each gun has about 14 characteristics, which is to say, your gun has more than twice the number of characteristics your character has. There's no explanation of what what the different armour types listed actually are. Is "light flexible armour" a bulletproof vest? Broiled leather? A thick jacket? What's the difference between Rigid armour and Medium Rigid armour? Each piece of armour has an armour value listed for its visor, if it has one. For Light Rigid, Rigid and Medium Rigid, the value is 0.8. A footnote helpfully tells me that Light Rigid, Rigid and Medium Rigid armours visors have an armour value of 4.

"If you can't dazzle them with style, riddle them with bullets." - Corley Norris (the motto by which Phoenix Command is written)

Table Count: 5
80's Action Film Dialogue Count: 5

As someone who's actually quite fond of Phoenix Command 's hyperdetailed firearms rules and hit-location tables, the system is incredibly poorly written. You have numerous characteristics that all factor into each other. Every time you throw a hand grenade, you have to go back to the character generation tables to see if lightening your load has changed your number of Combat Actions, a process that can require cross-indexing four different values in up to four different tables. The tables have huge, sprawling gaps in them with no indication whether to round up or down. At times, a table will simply cut off and offer no explanation what happens if your skill is above the norm. It's poorly written and poorly edited. If you want to use PCCS' for hyper-realistic firearms combat, stay far away from the character generation rules. Use everything else, but not the character generation rules.

Movement & Combat

posted by LatwPIAT Original SA post

Young Freud posted:

He actually mentions why he brings up INT means "Move Faster". He means you get more actions. The tl;dr of it is that your STR vs. Encumbrance determines your Base Speed, then your Base Speed is cross-referenced AGI to determine your Max Speed, which when cross-referenced with the sum of your INT score and SAL/GSCL determines how many actions your character gets. Which, because the way actual movement works, more actions = faster speed since a 2-yard hex takes one Combat Action to move through.

Since you can have 8 CA in a half-second impulse, that means you can move 32m/s. Despite what it says about Max Speed, it really doesn't have an effect on anything, since none of the movement rules ever mention them.

"she", actually. Also, in basic PCCS you can't get more than 6 actions per impulse, for a running speed of "only" 22 meters per second. That is to say, 80 kmh. Running. At these speeds you can expect to run across a lake and not sink from the sheer force of your feet pushing up from the water. A rather peculiar feature for a game that claims to model extreme realism...

Chapter 2: Basic Game: Movement and Combat

PCCS is played with "Phases" of two seconds each, divided into four half-second "Impulses". The game is played on a hexagonal map where each hex measures two yards across. PCCS uses US Customary Units, despite being written by a NASA engineer who really should know better. I guess he knew how to target his audience of hardcore American gun aficionados who were also into squad-level tabletop wargaming depicting the post-WWII period.

You have a bunch of Combat Actions (CA) and these are used to do stuff. Most things the game is interested in modelling, like shooting guns and moving, have CA values listed. If no value is listed, you multiply the number of seconds it would take the average person by 2. Since people skilled in Gun Combat are faster than the average non-combatant, this means that soldiers read the newspaper and cook gourmet meals faster on average. Nations with conscription, consequently, have much more efficient workers in their industries, which is why the Soviet Union outproduced the US during the Cold War.

Sometimes you can do two things at once, like run and aim at the same time. If you chose to do two things at once, you can double-spend your CA on both actions. Fair enough, but the game should perhaps give some actual guidelines for which actions can be done simultaneously and which can't. The only example given is that you can't aim at two different targets at once, but it'd have been nice to know whether I can throw a grenade at a target while also aiming at it, and if I can triple-spend my CA to also move while doing this.

PCCS uses a system of declare-simultaneously-resolve-afterwards, which is a) realistic, and b) a bookkeeping hassle. It does help here that most characters only have one or two actions per Impulse, so there's little to keep track of, at least. Then, just to make things difficult, players are allowed to change their minds about what actions they took in response to what other people do. The examples given are quite reasonable: "I choose to Aim but my opponent decided to Walk behind a wall, so I change my Aim action to a Fire action to shoot him before he disappears behind the wall" and "I'm being shot at so I decided to go Prone", but there are no limitations on what you can change your mind about, and no rules for handling what happens when people keep changing their minds.

PCCS keeps track of your character's field-of-view. There are no rules that prevent metagaming around this in the wargame, but if you were using this for an RPG, it does provide an opportunity for proper fog-of-war. One pretty cool thing PCCS does is to incorporate tunnel-vision; if you're aiming down the sights of your gun, your field-of-view is halved, so walking around with your gun raised to your eyes like a true SpecOps SWAT Badass Operator lowers your tactical awareness. You can also spend CA to turn your head to look around you in a 360-degree field-of-view to spot enemies.

Rather annoyingly, the rules are unclear on whether looking around ruins your aim bonus or just freezes it.

Shooting stuff: the reason we're all here:

"There is no such thing as excessive violence." - Gill the Treacherous

To shoot something, you have to aim at it. To aim at something, you can either spend 2 CA to raise your gun and look through the sights, or just fire from the hip. Each and every single gun has its own small table (*ding!* x a whole lot) of Aim Time Modifiers; the more CA you spend on aiming, the more accurate your shots will be. Mechanically it means there's a fine granularity between quick-and-inaccurate fire and slow-and-accurate fire, and that different guns give you different capabilities. Heavier guns have higher initial penalties, but aim faster. The longer the distance between the front and rear sights, the longer time you can spend aiming to rack up higher Aim Time Modifiers. (I actually reverse-engineered the relationship between a gun's weight and its Aim Time Modifiers. Without going into a lot of detail, the aim time modifier a at a number of CA of aim t is given by a = x*log(t)+y, where x=b*log(w)+m and y=c*log(w)+p, for the gun's weight w and some constants b, c, m and p .)

Then when you've aimed you add the Aim Time Modifier to your SAL, and cross-index your ATM+SAL and the range to the target in the Odds of Hitting Table (*ding!*) to get a target number between 0 and 99. Then you roll 1d100-1 and try to roll less than or equal to the target number.

This part of the game is actually quite clever. When you fire a gun in real life and in PCCS, your shots will follow a Guassian distribution. It's most likely that your bullets will go straight forward, but it's also fairly likely they'll deviate a little to the either side of "straight forward", and slightly less likely that they'll deviate even more to either side, etc. The probability of hitting your target is the probability that you shot will fall within some distance from of the centre of your aim. The Odds of Hitting Table is basically this Guassian probability distribution made into a table. It actually conforms quite nicely to the probability distribution for hitting of US Army soldiers. Which I know because there are tables of to-hit probabilities at different ranges and skills for US Army soldiers in the US Army Rifle Marksmanship field manual. Which I have studied extensively and compared to PCCS values...

...I really like gun prawn, OK?

Oh, yeah, 1d100-1. PCCS uses the d% convension where double zeros on the dice are read as, simply, "0" rather than "100", giving the dice a range of 0-99. What the game constantly forgets is that this means that, for a target number of X, you have a X+1% chance of succeeding; the game will gleefully tell you that "your target number is 86, so you have an 86% chance to succeed". It's rather amusing how the game employs advanced statistical models in painstaking detail, and then manages to screw up how their own dice system works.

There are also a bunch of other things that can modify how accurate your shots are. There are three different Stances you can be in; Standing, Kneeling and Prone, which give different bonuses to shooting. To find these bonuses, you have to refer to a table (*ding!) that strangely enough contains four different Stances. The difference between firing from the hip and firing with your gun raised are described as two additional Stances, which is pretty damn confusing since your firing Stance can be combined with any of the other Stances; Prone Hip Fire is a thing, as is Kneeling Aimed Fire. As you can see, clear communication was not one of PCCS' strong points. This probably did not help its reputation as incomprehensibly complex.

The last set of modifiers used in the basic game is the size of the target you're shooting at, which depends on its Stance and whether its exposed or just peeking around cover.

And then comes fully automatic fire. Fully automatic fire is awesome. First, you get +1 to hit. Then you shoot normally. Then, based on how far away your target is, you can hit it with several bullets. Which is to say that automatic fire is both more accurate and more deadly than normal fire. Is there ever a reason to not use automatic fire? Not really. You run out of bullets faster, but in the meantime you're a lean, mean, killing machine. Fully Automatic Fire in the PCCS basic game basically works like the US Army thought it would during the Vietnam War, so you're encouraged to get an autofire-capable M16 and lay down a hail of deadly bullets in the general direction of everyone who looks at you wrong.

At short ranges, you can even hit multiple people at once with a single burst. If they're clustered tight enough together, it's possible to hit more people than you fired bullets. Don't ask me how that works.

"Don't thing of it as being outnumbered, thing of it as having a very wide shot selection." - Generalissimo Puerco, President for Life

Getting shot: the reason we're not here:
PCCS Basic Game uses 23 hit locations, ranging from the general "hand" to the more specific "Upper Arm - Bone". When you get shot you roll 1d100-1 to determine when, and then start looking stuff up in tables. First you have to compare the gun's PEN etration with the Protection Factor (PF) of your armour in Table 3B (*ding!*). If the PEN of the gun is higher than your PF, the bullet actually penetrates. If the PEN is much higher than the PF, you might actually hit well enough to do some damage. Penetration is divided into four categories. Simply penetrating has a 10% chance of doing Low Velocity Damage, and a 90% chance of glancing off the armour. The second category of penetration has a 40% chance of doing Low Velocity Damage, and a 60% chance of glancing off the armour. With the fourth category, we have an actual 70% chance of dealing Over Penetration Damage, and a 30% chance of dealing Low Velocity Damage.

Table 3B doesn't say what happens if you have less than 2 PF as your armour. This would have been useful to know, since pistols have 2 PF and hence can't penetrate anything actually on the table. The rules also fail to mention whether to round up or down. Given that the backbone of the US Army, the M16, does not have PEN actually on the table, this can get rather awkward rather quick.

If we get hit with Low Velocity Damage, we're pretty lucky. Hits to the Forehead, Eye - Nose region and Heart will kill us very dead in less than three minutes. Hits everywhere else will take at least four hours to kill us, which means we'll probably have time to get to a hospital (which reduces our chances of dying drastically). If we get hit with Over Penetrating Damage, we have to cross-index (*ding!*) the weapon's Damage Class (DC) and the hit location to determine how much damage we take. The tables for Low Velocity Damage and DC 2 or less are identical and also right next to each other. A bit superfluous, that...

The actual amount of damage we take from being shot is modified by our HLT. The Physical Damage (PD) of a wound is PD = 10/HLT*damage. I like to imagine that everyone has HLT 13, so you have to divide by a prime number every time you someone gets shot. Quick, what's 210 divided by 13?

When we've determined the amount of damage we actually take, we can roll to see if we get knocked unconscious. We compare the sum of all damage we've taken so far with our Knockout Value. If our damage total is over 10% of our KV, we might get knocked unconscious. If our damage total is several times higher than our KV, it's very likely that we'll get knocked unconscious. The average soldier has a KV of about 20. The maximum possible KV is 180. Rather simply, the average soldier has a 11% chance of being knocked unconscious by anything that isn't a low-velocity glance. The most badass soldier we can imagine will have a 10% chance of getting knocked unconscious by everything that isn't a low-velocity arm or leg hit. Over Penetrating Damage is even worse; the average soldier has a 99% chance of being knocked unconscious by the average pistol round unless it glances or hits an arm.

"Who says Russian roulette isn't an acceptable way to rally a broken man?" - Lieutenant Axly

The more damage we've taken, the faster we die and the longer we take to heal. Table 8A (*ding!*) helpfully tells us how small our chances of survival are. We look up the amount of damage we've taken, and that tells us a) how long until we have to roll to see if we survive, and b) what we have to roll under. This ranges from 79 hours with a 95% chance of survival (5 damage), to 11 hours with a 13% chance of survival (200 damage), to 5 minutes and a 1% chance of survival (800 damage), to 4 minutes and a 0% chance of survival (900 damage). The low probabilities are a bit hard to roll under (especially the 0% chances), so if we can get someone to apply first aid to our dying character, the time interval and survival chance will go up. Going to an Aid Station will further increase our chances, as will going to a Field Hospital or the Trauma Centre of a modern hospital. When your time is up, you roll the dice. If you fail, you die. If you succeed, you survive.

This means that when your five minutes of furious bleeding are up, you have a 1% chance of never being able to die from that wound . Presumably the bleeding just stops or something.

Table 8A goes all the way to 100,000 damage, though one might wonder why. At 100k damage, you have a 0% chance of survival after 2 seconds. First Aid can extend this to a whole twelve seconds. How your fellow soldiers are supposed to drag you to an Aid Station in less than 12 seconds is simply not explained, not is it explained how you're supposed to get from an Aid Station to a Field Hospital in less than two minutes, or what kind of helicopter service can get you from a Field Hospital to a Trauma Centre in less than ten minutes. At less than 20k damage, you could reason that a SWAT team making an insertion would have an Aid Station ready at their van, and an ambulance ready to bring wounded to the nearest Trauma Centre at the ready, but anything greater than 20k damage really falls in the category of "certain death".

Overall, I actually quite like the design idea behind this part of the system. Instead of hit points, you have a survival chance and bleed-out-time based on how badly damaged you are, and healing/survival comes down to administering first aid and rushing you to a hospital before you die from your wounds. It's a great idea, but is somewhat marred by a) coming packed in a parcel with all the other sub-par parts of PCCS, and b) just how mercilessly deadly PCCS is. Having someone get shot in the leg and having to desperately rush them to a hospital in the back of a beat-up sedan while a guy who failed medical school tries to administer first aid is great drama. Having someone bleed out and die from a chest wound before you've even got the bandage out of your pocket perhaps less so.

Table Count: 13 (+8)
80's Action Film Dialogue Count: 10 (+5)


The firearms handling and wound handling are the two things I really like about PCCS; at their core, they're both decent and highly realistic systems for dealing with in-fight and terminal ballistics. The problem is that PCCS consistently chooses the worst possible way to represent damage. Damage really should be measured on a log scale rather than a linear scale, since that would get rid of all the multiplication. The to-hit chances for firearms are realistic and really just require one master table and a few tables of modifiers (not exactly unusual in RPGs), but are marred by the fact they're stapled to the Stygian weirdness that is PCCS character generation. One of my homebrew projects at the time is actually a system that uses the ballistics-systems from PCCS, cleans them up, and attaches them to what will hopefully be a slightly more sensible chargen system.

...I've also written a PCCS retroclone that converts damage to a log-scale and explains the rules a little better. Because I love gun prawn. >_>

Advanced Rules

posted by LatwPIAT Original SA post

I considered doing a review of World of Darkness: Gypsies , but for once in my life I should actually complete a project before starting another one...

Chapter 3: Advanced Rules

The Advanced Rules aren't actually all that advanced. All the tedious complexity of PCCS got introduced in Chapter 2, and the Advanced Rules mostly cover adding detail to the system. Sometimes, the so-called "Advanced Rules" are actually simpler than the Basic Game's rules, and more intuitive.

Stuff the Advanced Rules add:

Getting Shot, Part 2: Getting Shot Harder
There's also a more detailed system for hit locations (now there are 39 of them!). In the Basic Game, you did that terrible, over-complicated look-up process to determine your "Penetration Line". In the Advanced Game, you instead simply subtract the Protection Factor from the PEN(etration) of the gun to determine how deep the bullet penetrates. Conceptually, that's a lot easier for me to wrap my head around than the "Penetration Line" concept used in the Basic Game.

Of course, the Protection Factor is modified by a rolling 1d10 on a table (*ding!*) to determine the increase in effective PF from the bullet glancing off armour. It's the exact same amount of work as in the basic game, but conceptually clearer. But PCCS can't make sense for long, so no matter what you roll for glancing, the effective PF is always higher than the actual PF of the armour. Have a ballistic vest with PF 6? Even if the bullet doesn't glance, the effective PF will never just be 6; it'll be greater by a lot. This is extremely counter-intuitive, and certainly doesn't make PCCS any lighter on the brain.

For the record, I'm reviewing bitching about PCCS 3rd Edition; in PCCS 2nd ed., the glancing table actually makes sense. Why they changed it I can't say (~maybe they liked it better that way~).

The Basic Game's damage table fit on a single page; the Advanced Rules use a damage table that spans two entire pages and goes into unnecessary detail. You might have noticed that the Basic Game damage table eventually stops assigning damage and just says "Dead" - not so in the Advanced Game! There the table instead simply starts going into the low millions for damage - you might recall from Part 2 that anything above 20k is already certain death...

"Don't think of it as losing a leg. Think of it as eliminating the chance of tripping over your own two feet." - Dr. Oscar Sneiderbunk

But I digress...
Actually, there's probably a story behind that one. See, Barry Nakazono who wrote PCCS had earlier released a Fantasy RPG Heartbreaker ( Sword's Path: Glory ) and a modern firearms rules system called Small Arms Spectrum . While SPG would get condensed into the Phoenix Command Hand To Hand Combat System , SAS was actually less detailed than PCCS and more tedious. About half the time you look up things in tables in PCCS were done in SAS through mental arithmetic. In any case, one of the things there were rules for in SAS was how technological advance improved First Aid, which acted as a divisor to damage, getting quite significant at higher Tech Levels. In the 2030's and later, First Aid reduced damage to 17% of the original value. Damage in PCCS is proportional to the square of damage in SAS, so if you use the First Aid rules from SAS, you'd reduce the damage to about 2% - which brings 1000k damage down to 20k and into the survivable range. So somewhere in the process, it probably made sense to keep listing damage all the way to the low millions.

Still though, in Phoenix Command as a stand-alone game, it makes no sense whatsoever.

The Advanced Rules also include Shock, which is a form of "virtual" damage that is only used to determine whether you fall unconscious or not. It's not added to your damage total... but you still need to add it to your damage total when rolling to see if you fall unconscious. After multiplying through with 10/HLT.

Fully Automatic Weapons Baby!
There are now extra special rules for shooting people with automatic fire. First, you have to roll to see if you kept your gun aimed correctly height-wise. This uses it's own to-hit numbers found in a table as well as special modifiers for accuracy based on size only in the height dimension (i.e. height). The rules here are somewhat confusing; autofire is used against area targets, but your chance to hit is based on the height Accuracy Level Modifier of the target. Which means that if you aim at an elephant, it's easy to hit the mouse next to it, but if you aim the mouse, the chance is very high you'll miss the elephant... In any case, if you managed to hit the correct height, you then look at the width of your arc of fire and the rate of fire of your weapon, and refer to... *drumroll*

...another table (*ding!*) to determine what the chance is that every target in the zone you fired into gets hit. If the average chance is less than 100%, you have to roll once for every target (imagine firing at tightly clustered squad of a dozen enemy soldiers, and then rolling twelve times to see if you hit any of them - knowing that for each hit, you have to roll for hit location, glancing, and knockout). If the average chance is greater than 100%, you hit with the average number of bullets. Always. Anything but the strict average is streng verboten .

And you can still hit with more bullets than you fired.

Amusingly, the Size Modifier table has normal, height, and width modifiers, but the width modifiers are not used with the autofire rules, so it's just as easy to hit a telephone pole as it is to hit a barn door.

One thing I do quite like is that, because autofire is splint into height and width, the rules include the tendency of automatic weapons to "climb" when fired in long bursts. Each time you fire an automatic burst, you get a penalty to your height to-hit roll, so the longer you keep firing, the more difficult it is to keep the weapon aimed at the correct height.

Shotguns are mechanically pretty similar to normal guns with a few elements of the autofire rules. You resolve the shot normally to determine if you shot in the right direction, and then shotguns have their own little special set of numbers to determine whether you you hit anyone inside their cone of fire with the pellets or not. At short range, you always hit with lots of pellets, while at long range the pellets are far apart so a person might avoid getting hit. It still has that problem where you always hit with the strict average number of pellets, and can hit people with more people than you fired.

The shotgun rules do take width into account, so you have to refer to a table (*ding!*) to determine how the target width modifiers the pellet hit chance.

There are also rules for automatic shotguns, which are a fine logical extension of the autofire and shotgun rules. This, of course, makes them tedious as fuck, because you have to first roll for elevation , then for each hit per target, then again for each target inside the cone of fire on each target you actually hit, then glancing rolls for each pellet that hit, then hit locations for each pellet, then knockout for each person who got shot. Fire an automatic shotgun at a dozen or so closely grouped people, and this can quickly become some well over 50 rolls for a single attack...

"Oops." - Ex-Officer Axly

Grenades - "Roll 2000 times on tables 6A and 6D and take the sum, before referring to tables 8A and 8B"

Remember when I said automatic shotguns were tedious? Try grenades. They're pretty much exactly like shotguns, but instead of firing at most 12 pellets per shot, an direct hit with a hand grenade can have up to two thousand pieces of shrapnel you have to determine hit location and glancing for. Even indirect hits can inflict several dozens hits on each target , requiring you to roll for many several hundred of pieces of shrapnel individually. (The game suggests rolling for location once and then assuming they all hit the same place, which is simple but somewhat bizarre...) And since grenades are indirect fire weapons, if you miss with a grenade, you have to use a table (*ding!*) to determine by how much you missed so you can determine where the grenade landed.

There are automatic shotguns in the game, but there are no rules for determining where missing grenades land. It's also kind of pointless to use automatic grenade launchers for autofire, because their ROF is always 1, which isn't even listed on the autofire table.

Table Count: 23 (+9)
80's Action Film Dialogue Count: 18 (+8)

All in all, the Advanced Rules have a lot of good ideas handled badly. The shotgun rules are quite smart, and the autofire rules are neat, but they're heavily let down by how badly they handle large numbers. Most RPGs can handle normal , expected situations quite well, so what determines whether a RPG fails tends to be how it handles possible but unexpected situations. For Phoenix Command , the flaws of the system become clear when shotguns and autofire (or, heavens forbid, shotgun autofire) is used on thighly grouped targets. Suddenly, people are hit by more bullets than were fired, and the game screeches to a halt as players have to resolve several dozen dice rolls and determine damage from several dozen wounds at once. And the fact that some rules are simply missing doesn't actually make things any simpler. If the system had been streamlined, with clearer rules, it would probably have less of a reputation as an "over-complicated unplayable disaster caught up its own ass in details", and more of a reputation as a "very complicated and heavily detailed game for people into rules-heavy RPGs and minutiae".

Game Tips and Playing Aids

posted by LatwPIAT Original SA post

I've been holding off on doing this update because I've been distracted by schoolwork and making a Phoenix Command retroclone.

Chapter 4: Game Tips and Playing Aids

This is a short chapter covering practicalities outside of the game itself, such as a rundown of features new in 3rd edition PCCS, tournament rules, and two sample scenarios. There's not too much I can say about this. I haven't had a chance to play Phoenix Command in real life, nor do I really want to. The concept and attention to detail intrigues me, but the presentation horrifies me.

Game Tips: Making tar play like syrup

The rulebook suggests delegating work such that each player handles their own character, an experienced player sits with the hit location table and rolls for effect, and the Referee refereeing the rules. It's not really objectionable in any way. If all you have is one copy of the rulebook things go faster if you don't need to shuffle it around between players, and asking players to keep track of their own character's wounds and rolling their own Save vs. KO has to the best of my knowledge been standard since Gygax invited some friends over to try his new game.

But, let's not forget that "keeping track of damage" includes multiplying through by 10/HLT every time you're hit. If you don't have a pocket calculator (this chapter doesn't suggest getting one), this means doing long division every time characters have a HLT that isn't 10. A friend of mine suggested the Referee moratorium that the only HLT values allowed should be 5 and 10.

Other suggestions is that you make a ranging stick marked with the target range modifiers, which is a pretty cool idea if you're playing on terrain-map or even on a hexmap. It does save you having to look up the range modifiers every time you shoot at something, and if you're from a miniatures wargaming background, you'd probably be used to pulling out a measuring tape every time you minis shot at the other guy's minis. PCCS is primarily a miniature wargame, so this is not unprecedented.

Lastly, it's also suggested that markers are used to keep track of visibility, since PCCS is pretty strict on what you can and can't see. Given the premise that you keep track of facing angles and visibility, this is not unreasonable either. It's not like a lot of games don't have field-of-view rules anyway, they just tend to be hard to enforce when the entire scene exists in the collective mind's eye of the players and GM, and everyone has their own ideas of exactly where they are looking. When you're playing on a tabletop with miniatures, these kind of rules become a lot more enforceable, since you know where everyone are and which direction they're facing.

Sample Scenarios: I have no idea how these play

The Bridge at Oppenheim
PCCS was first published i the 86, when Reagan had made the Cold War more pressing again by trying to measure his dick against a rather disinterested Gorbachev. One of the sample games in PCCS is of course a Cold-War-Gone-Hot scenario, where Russia has invaded West Germany. The third edition was published in 1989, which means the Warsaw Pact invasion of West Germany was either already somewhat dated, or very soon would be dated. In '86, it would probably have looked a lot more realistic, due to the near-disaster that was ABLE ARCHER. The game says it's day five of the Russian invasion of Germany, and the players are members of a "NATO squad" (who are armed only with US weapons) who've been tasked with holding a bridge near the town of Oppenheim. All in all, it's a very conventional, down-to-earth scenario about WWIII.

It's mainly an excuse to teach new players how the game works. Inexperienced Russian troops with AKM's with shitty ammo are moving through a chokepoint into an ambush set up by inexperienced US troops armed with M16's and machine guns. The players can win by either incapacitating 14 Russians on the first phase of combat, or by surviving for 60 phases. A quick look at some of the tables tell me that when shot, a Russian has a 78% chance of being knocked unconscious. There's a map provided of the location, thankfully, but the map doesn't have a scale , which is bloody annoying. Making a few estimates as to the scale of the map, it appears almost impossible for the US soldiers to miss at all, meaning it's quite possible the game will be over after that first round of eight players firing six rounds each at 14 targets ; as you may recall from earlier this means that each player rolls to hit... then once for each enemy soldier to hit again... then hit locations are determined for every soldier that got hit... then all soldiers that got hit have to roll to avoid KO. A phase allows four autofire attacks, so you can repeat all this rolling four times.

Things are complicated somewhat by the terrain, but it's still a scenario where you'll have to roll a lot when the bullets start flying. Perhaps good for teaching people the mechanics, but it might also horrify them on the mechanics. If you don't kill all the Russians in the first turn, the game goes on for another 59 phases. This represents a total of 2 minutes of in-game time, and might very well take the rest of the evening to resolve... It's also a very dangerous scenario for the players; they're dug in in sandbag positions that expose only their heads to risk, but my estimate for ranges informs me that a Russian that does survive to return fire will run a very high risk of hitting a player character - which will almost certainly do some very nasty things to that US soldier's face.

As written, the scenario is also unplayable; none of the soldiers have a HLT stat, which means you can't figure out how much damage they take. As mentioned, the map has no scale, so it's unclear how far away things are from each other. The map is not very interesting, and uses an abstract map-notation that doesn't really spur the imagination, and at times is unclear.

Police Raid
It's the 80's. The other scenario is a SWAT raid on a drug ring. I estimate this one to be a bit more friendly to the players. There are 10 skilled PCs going up against six less skilled criminals. The player characters wear body armour and can pick between an assault rifle, a shotgun, and an SMG as their weapon, while the criminals are armed with either assault riles or mere pistols. There are a number of scenario rules here describing how the criminals sometimes have to run and fetch their weapons, and how some of the drug-technicians will try to flee the building or surrender. There are rules for checking whether an enemy is armed or unarmed, and rules for arresting suspects. Annoyingly, there are rules for telling armed suspects to drop their weapons... but if a suspect is carrying a weapon, they will fight instead of surrendering. That's either some high-level police procedure simulationism going on, or it's utterly pointless to tell a suspect to drop their weapon, since that just lets them get the drop on you.

If it's simulationism, you can also play the cowboy cop who endangers civilians by firing wildly through the walls to hit suspects at random. There are rules for this.

All in all, it actually looks fun to play; with overwhelming firepower focusing on surviving the harsh reality of PCCS becomes easier, and with only six enemies some of whom might not even try to fight back it'll be a lot shorter than slogging through The Bridge at Oppenheim. There's more variety in weapons available and in enemies. The map provided has a scale, though it's still not very interesting as it includes only the most relevant information; where are walls, doors, windows, and obstacles to movement.

Oh, and it's not playable, because there's still no HLT values provided, and it says to randomly distribute the enemies by dice roll, but the map doesn't tell which rolls lead to which locations. So hey, I'd kind of want to play it but literally cannot , because vital information is missing.

Table Count: 26 (+3)
80's Action Film Dialogue Count: 25 (+7)

The sample scenarios are on the surface of it somewhat dull, although they are playing right into that 80's sense of macho escapism. It could only be more 80's if instead of playing normal US soldiers you played Special Forces. However, the scenarios are let down quite a lot by the fact that they're unplayable . Leading Edge Games seems to never have done quality control on their products beyond proofreading. It's unacceptable, but I find it hard to be harsh here; it feels like one of those fantasy heartbreakers you see, only run under a completely different mindset and with ten times the amount of effort.

Optional Rules

posted by LatwPIAT Original SA post

Chapter 5: Optional Rules

This chapter details rules so detailed that they're not even used in the Advanced rules. There's not much meat to get into here, since there are many small rules that do very little all in all. There are:

The rest of the book is tables and gun stats. I'll go into detail about some of these though.

First, Phoenix Command is one of few RPGs that actually care about which direction characters are facing. This, together with the spotting rules, makes for a game where identifying where an enemy is becomes an important part of combat. This adds a fairly novel and realistic aspect to a firefight, but at the same time the rules are very time-consuming. Counters used on the map must have distinguishable facings, and both Referee and players need to keep track of who can see what. The book seem to imply a kind of hive-mind approach where both sides can see anything seen by anyone on their side, which is convenient, but a kind of giant, gaping hole in the realism. At the same time, like many games, there are rules for spotting enemies, but not any rules for losing sight of enemies. It can be handled by the judgement of the Referee, but it means that this game with its detailed rules for spotting enemies and player facing does not itself have structured rules for hiding and setting up quick ambushes.

That said, I feel the need to applaud the game for at least trying. I had some fun playing through Rainbow Six: 3 this holiday, and from my own research into room clearing and military operations, reconnaissance and spotting enemies before they spot you is extremely important, yet most games gloss over it entirely. There are practical reasons for this - Phoenix Command demonstrates that it can be a laborious process - but the failure of many games to even try is at times grating. (On that note, Phoenix Command is almost perfect as a tabletop Rainbow Six game.)

The rules for hearing enemies are very realistic - everything is basically rated in dB, and you compare the volume of the sound you make against the background to determine whether you can hear it. Fairly simple, and I've run a short game using these rules; they add a tactical dimension where you can know where enemies are if they make too much noise, and sneak around and set up ambushes by carefully managing the sound you make yourself. That scene in Enemy at the Gates where Zaitsev masks his shots with artillery fire? This game has rules that let you do that. It's not always clear what kind of sound masks other sounds though, which is a let-down with these rules.

There are rules for planning your actions in this game, adding the realistic delay that comes in having to think about something. I can understand why these rules are optional, since they add a whole lot of overhead (you need to keep track of what you're planning, when you started planning, how many 'actions' your plan requires, etc.) and complexity. I've been told from more seasoned PCCS veterans that these rules completely change the way the game plays and in some ways are preferable, because of the lulls in combat they create. I should note that "taking cover" and "returning fire" never use these rules, which is explicitly noted. Instead, it's for things like "moving out of cover, advancing down a corridor, opening the door, throwing a grenade in, ..." etc. A bit like the spotting rules, these are an attempt at realism that gets incredibly complex and time-consuming, yet at the same time it's interesting to see how that kind of realism actually affects a game, both from the realism-side and the game-side of things.

The game has morale-rules. Morale is, again, an often forgotten element of combat in RPGs, at best relegated to a specific niche attack, whereas in the real world all attacks on an enemy wear at their morale and willingness to fight. That said, the rules in Phoenix Command aren't very good and basically never allow characters to recover morale and get back into a fight. Their realism is more guesswork than the game's usual detailed physical models. (I know this because I happen to have read several research papers by the US Army on suppressive fire, and the models the US Army produced look nothing like PCCS' rules.)

The rules for knock-down add a third (fourth if you include the Morale rules) for getting enemies to stop shooting. There's killing enemies, incapaciting enemies, scaring enemies, and now simple knocking them flat on their back with the sheer momentum of being hit by a bullet. I think that last one is a bit overkill, and further not very realistic. Yes, people sometimes fall down when shot, but that has less to do with the momentum of the bullet and more to do with mental shock inducing a vasovagal syncope, or organ disruption causing momentary unconsciousness - which is already modelled by the incapacitation rules.

PCCS has 8-second long combat turns (almost never used) divided into 2-second combat phases , which are divided into 0.5-second impulses , which themselves are divided into 0.1-second Master Phasing Counts . The MPCs are not particularly egregious; they're provided as a tool to resolve what happens when two multiple things happen in the same Impulse and you need to know, truly, what happened first. For example, bullets have a Time of Flight (TOF) value that tell you how long they take to reach their target, in MPCs. If you get hit by a bullet the same MCP you fire a weapon, you take either a -10 or -20 penalty, depending on whether you make your Knockout roll. However, at short ranges many guns have TOF 0, just raising once more the question of what happens when two characters shoot each other at the same time. Additionally, there are no rules explaining what happens if the TOF is so large a target can move back into cover before it hits - does the bullet curve after them?

So, Phoenix Command . A revolutionary and unique game full of novel ideas that even 30 years later still haven't been copied. It is a complex game, make no mistake, but at the same time a lot of its reputation comes more from being poorly laid out and edited than actual complexity. It has lots of flaws, but at the same time I think its unique ideas and willingness to take the extra step to be a realistic game is admirable. There's a lot to be learned here, both good and bad.

Table Count: 36 (+10)
80's Action Film Dialogue Count: 29 (+4)

"My loyal troop! You came back to save me!" - Captain Stora
"Actually sir, we came back for your gun..." Gill the Treacherous