Developer's Blog #24: Engine Combat

Discussion on the 1879 roleplaying game.
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Developer's Blog #24: Engine Combat

Postby TarlimanJoppos » Sat Mar 29, 2014 10:11 pm

Originally posted at

This week, let's have a look at how Lovelaces and Byrons battle for control of the Analytical Engines, the steamweird universe's equivalent of decker combat.

First, you need to know that Engines have modules - the Mill, which is the central processor, the Store, which is the memory, and an assortment of peripherals which may be connected by telegraphic wires or hydraulic lines. You then need to know that each module has two defense factors:

  • The Hardware Defense (HW Def) is the Target Number for attempts to modify or subvert the module mechanically using a Clockwork Skill Test.
  • The Software Defense (SW Def) is the Target Number for attempts to suborn the function of the module using an Engine Programming Skill Test.
Once interference is detected, the operator sets off an alarm. The firm's security team responds to the signal and searches the premises for the intruder. Until the Byron is found, a Lovelace operator may combat them within the Engine to try and prevent their manipulations. Engine Combat works as follows:

  • Both Lovelace and Byron make an Initiative Test. This conflict takes place in standard combat rounds.
  • On their Initiative, the Byron may choose to defend against the Lovelace, or perform some other operation as listed on the Engine Manipulations Table above. If defending, the Byron makes a Test against the Engine module that they currently have access to, using Clockwork against its HW Defense, Engine Programming against its SW Defense, or Mechanics in the case of working with hydraulic lines.
  • On their Initiative, the Lovelace makes an Engine Programming Test against the SW Defense of the Engine module to which the Byron is connected. They may choose to halt the Byron's current operation, or try to lock out the Byron. Halting an operation requires a number of successes against the SW Defense equal to the number required to start the operation. For example, if the Byron has started a major jam operation, the Lovelace must roll three successes to halt it.

The Byron working in the Store of a Medium firm's Engine (SW Def 7), has a data read operation running, and opts to defend against the system operator. The Byron rolls a 10, succeeding by 3. The Lovelace tries to thwart the Byron and rolls an 11, succeeding by 4. The Lovelace halts the Byron's data read operation. The Byron may try again in the next combat round, or may decide that the firm's security is getting far too close to their location, and opt to disengage and flee the premises.

If the Byron defends against a lockout, the character that achieves the higher success on their Test wins. In the event of a tie, the character defending the Engine wins (home field advantage).

If the Byron does not defend against the lockout, or the Lovelace wins, the Lovelace locks the Byron out of the affected Engine module. The Byron must then beat the module's SW Defense with an extra success to regain access.The Byron's operations in the module continue running until the Lovelace has time to put a stop to them.

If the Byron wins against a lockout attempt by one success more than the Lovelace, the Byron may lock the Lovelace out of the module. The Lovelace must then break into the module by going against its SW Defense to regain control.

The Lovelace attempts to lock the Byron out of the Mill, and rolls a 9 against the Mill's SW Defense of 8. The Byron counters, and rolls a 14, scoring one more success against the Mill's SW Defense than the Lovelace. The Byron locks out the Lovelace, and now has free run of the Mill until the Lovelace can beat the SW Defense of the Mill and get back in.

At any time, the operator can make an Engine Programming Test against the SW Defense of the Mill, and, if successful, put the Engine into lockdown. This halts all processing, and may cause damage to the Engine or data loss, and so is reserved for emergencies only. Once an Engine is in lockdown, an operator in the Engine room must use a physical key to reset the Mill and clear the Engine before it can function again.

Engine Combat works very much like physical combat, and takes place at the same time as physical combat with the same Initiative Tests. Engine Combat is a Sustained Action. Neither the intruder nor the defender can move more than is necessary to adjust the Engine, and nothing else beyond simple actions may be performed. Defense attempts must be made after the intervention attempts. If the defender rolls higher on their Initiative Test, they must hold their action if they wish to defend for the round.

Of course, at the same time that all this is happening, the Byron's Dodger friends are cracking open the firm's safe, sabotaging their manufacturing equipment, stealing the account books, or standing around being really nervous while the Byron tinkers with the Engine and mutters about defensive algorithms. They may even be engaged in physical combat with the firm's building security people, trying to keep the Byron from being pummeled or shot until the Engine work is done.
Andrew Ragland
Line Developer, 1879

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Re: Developer's Blog #24: Engine Combat

Postby Slimcreeper » Tue Apr 01, 2014 7:35 pm

Glad to see these on the forums.

My question about this sort of thing is how does the player internalize and visualize engine combat to make the numbers come alive? Physical combat is easy;we can visualize what is going on in space to physical things. Lots of cyberpunk settings make the computer 'combat' into a virtual reality; that won't work here. But we don't want a game of 'a hah! I got 30 of your percentage points and win!"

Defining the peripherals you referred to? Locking up sections of the stack, almost like a map of the engine, like a tactical war-game where the combatants are trying to take the high ground and flank each other, tie up key resources? Clearly defined time-sensitive goals (get the data in 3 rounds)?

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Re: Developer's Blog #24: Engine Combat

Postby Kasbak » Tue Apr 01, 2014 10:00 pm

Analytical engines work better than regular PC's for visualizing because they are entirely mechanical, which means you can actually see all the parts moving. Just in normal operation, they're more interesting to watch because you can observe all of the processing taking place. By contrast, cyberpunk needs the extra visualization because you can't see inside a microchip to understand how it works. Analytical engines are also massive, usually occupying huge rooms that are filled with nothing but their clockwork. Also remember that the engine is still running during the whole process.

Now take the operation of all of those moving parts, and pit two people against each other in trying to control them. They'll have to read gear positions to decipher numbers, then interpret the numbers into data, and then mechanically alter the clockwork in the section they're in to change the process how they want. They'll be jamming and skipping gears, forcing transmission shifts, altering pressure in the steam power supply, and so on.

To give a good visual representation, imagine being inside a clock tower, filled with many many more and much smaller gears. You have to read the gears and adjust how the clock works while it is still running, with someone in another location that you can't see also adjusting the clock trying to fowl up your changes. At the same time, there are also alarms going off and guards searching for you, and your companions are the only thing that will keep them off your back long enough to finish up your work.

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