Friday, September 17, 2010

[Future Perfect] Tractor Beams

I decided to post the rules for tractor beams that I wrote for use in the FUTURE PERFECT setting after a recent play session in which one of the player characters decided to use the tractor beam by widening it's area of effect while reducing its overall effectiveness in order to slow down a number of torpedoes that neared their ship (we treated it as a Trick that allowed another character manning the ship's guns to gain a +2 bonus to target the torpedoes).  In Future Perfect, tractor beams work by not only grabbing an object of sufficiently low mass, but by inhibiting its ability to power itself and break away from the tractor effect.  In short, they drain a ship's available power, thereby making them unable to resist being held.  This makes the tractor beam serve a roll similar to Ion Cannons in Star Wars, in addition to the more common effect of snaring a targeted vessel.


Tractor Beams have earned their name because they generally are used to "tractor" or tow a ship or free-floating object in space. However, Military Grade Tractor Beam weapons have the capacity to first shut down a vessel before holding it in tow. The weapon drains "Power" from a targeted ship, forcing the target's main power plant to deactivate (most ships have a secondary power source to maintain Life Support, so in general life support is unaffected). A deactivated ship cannot reactivate so long as it remains in the tractor beam, unless it somehow manages to become powered by a different and distinct power source than the one which was drained.

Tractor Beams have both a Size rating and a Damage Value. A Tractor Beam cannon is only effective against a vessel of the same Size Class as the Beam rating or smaller - A Medium Cannon can only target Medium and Small ships, regardless of whether or not it is mounted on a Huge Battlecruiser or a Medium Freightrunner. Tractor Beams do Damage versus a Target's Total Maximum Power (the full power available to a vessel, regardless of how it is allocated; note that Power Plant damage affects a ship's maximum Power).

Tractor Beams have the following Damage Values by Size Rating:
  • Small 2d6
  • Medium 3d6
  • Large 5d6
  • Huge 8d6
  • Gargantuan 12d6
  • Colossal 17d6

If a vessel takes more than half their power in a single hit, they are snared by the Beam and must make a piloting skill roll to break out of it. Smaller vessels caught by a larger beam must make their roll at -1 per Size category of difference. When a vessel takes more than its total Power in Damage, its Power Plant is disabled and the ship is deactivated. If a vessel is not deactivated in a single barrage, it regains Power at a rate of 25% of Maximum Power per round (adjust at the end of every combat round), unless it possesses a piece of special equipment, an upgrade, or an Edge that adjusts that value.

For example, The Jagged Thorn is a modified Medium Freighter, Ogre Class, struck by a Huge Tractor Beam mounted on a Gargantuan Star Crab Command Carrier. The Jagged Thorn has 28 TOTAL Power, and takes 23 points from the Huge Cannon. Since the vessel has enough power remaining to support both life support and attempt to accelerate at standard levels if it reroutes power from other Ship Services (Medical Bay and Repair Shop; requires a Repair Skill roll), it may attempt to break free. However, since the beam is a HUGE weapon, the Piloting Skill Roll (only) must be made at -2 on the roll. The ship’s engineer rolls a 9, and successfully re-route’s power away from the unnecessary systems. The Jagged Thorn's ace pilot rolls a total of 8, and easily manages to avoid being snagged, despite the massive Power drain. At the close of the round, the Jagged Thorn regains 7 Power, for a total of 12 Power available. The pilot and crew hope they get the initiative, because the Jagged Thorn has enough power to risk an emergency H-Space jump and get the hell away. It's certainly a better option than being taken prisoner or, worse, being disabled and blown apart.

Deflector Screens also make a vessel quite resistant to Tractor effects. The target may use its Deflection bonus to subtract a number of dice from the Beam's Damage Value equal to it's Mark# Rating. Furthermore, all Piloting Skill rolls required as a result of the Tractor Beam are made with a bonus equal to the Deflector's Mark# Rating. Thus, a Mark II Deflector will reduce all Tractor Beam attacks by 2d6, and offer a +2 to Piloting when attempting to avoid a Tractor Beam's effects.

Tractor Beams may be firelinked or grouped, but cannot be placed into a standard cannon array. Linking or grouping Tractor beams of the same Size offers the normal damage benefits of an array, improving the Damage Die by one step per additional Tractor Beam Cannon to a maximum positive effect from four cannons. Additionally, groups of two or more cannons offer an additional -1 penalty to a target’s Piloting Skill rolls to resist being snared. Unlike arrays, smaller cannons may be grouped with larger ones, provided they are within one size category of one another. The largest damage value gains a bonus from the smaller cannons equal to one point per damage die for smaller support cannons, plus one additional point per size category of every additional smaller support cannon after the first. No bonus is gained for grouping more than four weapons of any size combination. And smaller weapons in a group do not offer any added bonuses/penalties when determining if a target is snared. Grouped cannons still may not target a vessel larger than the size category of the largest cannon.

For example, an Interdiction Vessel with a Two Large Tractor Beams and two Medium Tractor Beams may group all attacks together when attacking a Large HyperCruiser (something which normally could not be targeted by a Medium Tractor Beam at all!). Knowing the vessel has a Mark I Deflector shield, the gunners on the Interdiction Vessel decide to group all of their attacks against the HyperCruiser in the hope of snagging it, if not shutting it down fast. The base damage for a Large Cannon is 5d6, but one die is subtracted because of the HyperCruiser’s Deflector system. Base Damage becomes 4d6, but is increased by a die type because of the second Large Cannon in the fire group. So together with a new base damage of 4d8, the two Medium Cannons are factored into the mix to grant a +5 Damage Bonus. Thus, the Interdiction Vessel unleashes a Tractor Beam assault of 4d8+5 against the Hypercruiser (as opposed to two attacks at 4d6). While the combined attack has a lower potential maximum damage than two separate attacks with the Large Tractor Beams, it has much higher base and median damage point and almost guarantees a snare result against the HyperCruiser.

GM’s should be flexible when allowing the use of a Tractor Beam as part of a Trick maneuver or similar tactic.

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