Isn't the Penetration Momentum Combat Spend Way Too Strong?

Serious question as I cannot find any other combat spend, in space combat, anywhere near as good as this one.

All weapon damage is reduced by Resistance before being applied to the target ship, whether shielded or otherwise. This means that reducing Resistance by 1 is pretty much the same as increasing damage by 1.

Now this is where it gets complicated. It costs 1 Momentum to increase damage by 1. It costs 1 momentum to decrease the target’s resistance by 2. This means that against starships, it’s always better to decrease Resistance than increase damage.

More importantly, all phaser starship weapons have Versatile 2, which gives them 2 bonus Momentum to spend immediately. And since the Penetration combat spend is repeatable, that means that every successful attack with phaser does a straight 4 extra damage, flat! And then you can add even more Momentum to that. This makes it super easy to flat out negate all the Resistance of some exceptionally strong target like a D’Deridex. To put this into context, it means a small tactical fit Nova can, on average, cause a breach on a shielded D’Deridex with every attack as long as they spend a single momentum from the pool (or extra rolled on their attack).

To put this into context, disruptors, with Vicious 1, would need to roll at least 12 dice to average out 4 extra damage on their attack.

Am I missing something? How is this not incredibly broken? What’s the counter to that aside from having some named villain with a souped up ship with Ablative Armor AND Improved Hull Integrity? Is there an errata somewhere that says “Hey, maybe this is not a good idea …”

Well, reducing the Resistance has one big downside: It’s not actually damage, and thus does not get your damage number up to the 5 necessary for a Breach.

This generally doesn’t matter if you’ve already achieved the 5 damage necessary to cause a Breach (which is more common than not in Starship Combat, I’ll grant), but I assure you it does if you haven’t. If aiming for multiple Breaches (by doing 10 damage, then 5 more via Devastating Attack), this becomes even more true.

Also, talk about things being ‘broken’ when the game is predicated on them is always weird to me. The game assumes everyone has this capability and is balanced with that in mind. It may often be the optimal choice, but it’s one available to everyone and hardly ‘broken’ for that very reason.

There’s a reason that ships take so many Breaches to a single system to take out of a fight, and that’s very much because ships that get shot are expected to take a Breach most of the time…something this rule makes true in a way it wouldn’t be otherwise. Yes, non-phaser weapons need to spend Momentum/Threat to do this, but not a ridiculous amount of it.

So…yes, this is usually the first thing you want to spend Momentum on (buying Resistance down to 0-1), but that doesn’t mean it’s broken or inherently overpowered. Part of the reason it works this way is just for symmetry so that ship combat works the same way as personal combat mechanically (and that makes reducing armor cheaper partially to discourage everyone from wearing it under all circumstances).

Minor technical correction: torpedoes require threat. Momentum can’t be used. (CRB p. 231)

As for Penetration being overpowered? Yep, most of the time.

I think it should be 1 per, or should be 2 off but not be repeatable.

If I can get a game going, I’ll put it to my players.

@Kaybe - the exception is when firing high damage weapons at small craft…
If I do 5 damage to a shuttle… 1 M makes the full five through for a breech, plus a second for shields down.
If I roll 7+, instead, I don’t need to worry about the penetration spend. I instead spend it for a devastating attack, and get a third breech, with 4 damage… of which 2 is through on downed shields.
If I got 12+ damage, I still want to use the 2M for devastating, because then the secondary hit does 2 breeches, too.
on 7-10, if I have a 3rd momentum, it definitely should be penetration.

For Scale 3 vessels, it’s similar, but the thresholds are higher.
TO make Devastating worth it, either his sheilds need to be down, or I need to clear them with the primary, and do 1+(2x resistance) or more damage… at which point, an extra breech. so, 7 damage vs scale 3, if the shields are downed by the 4+ into shields, the 2M for the extra hit.
Size 4? I’m not forseeing it being relevant often, but works just like scale three…

In regards to the torpedo thing, I meant non-phasers need to spend actual Momentum (or Threat, for enemy ships) on the Penetration spend, not the Threat needed to use torpedoes in the first place.

And I’d strongly recommend against house ruling any system you haven’t played yet. Until you see how the moving pieces actually work in play you don’t know how such changes will effect the game as a whole. And, speaking from experience, this Momentum spend works just fine. Frankly, reducing its effectiveness will drastically slow down starship combat…which already generally takes longer than personal combat, making it the longest single activity in the game already, IME.

The reason it takes longer is because the stakes are much much higher. In ground combat, a player who takes an injury can be ‘cured’ of that relatively easily. Breaches in space combat can only have their effects repaired by the engineering team. But the breaches themselves remain until the ship can get patched up at a starbase over a period of days or weeks (CRB 231). Plus if a single team member dies, it sucks for that single team member. If a PC ship blows up with players on it, that’s a campaign ending TPK unless most players manage to get to escape pods. And even then, it means generating a new ship … and players do get attached to their ships and won’t like that one bit unless it’s some big mid-campaign epic moment.

Starships taking breaches is a big big deal. It’s supposed to be challenging to take them until the shields are down, and large capital ships should be able to shrug off most attacks while their shields remain up, with shield breaches being uncommon unless the roll is a lucky one. But with the current system, and the players clued in (and they WILL clue in, trust me), even the smallest PC ship can take a huge dump on anything short of the Borg by simply using all their spare momentum on Penetration spends. Especially when you consider that phasers alone will ignore 4 Resistance from Versatile’s spend before any extra Momentum needs to be used.

This of course poses a big problem for the GM because they are forced to reciprocate in turn lest the players feel that nothing out there poses a threat. So then how do you think players will react when their Galaxy class beast of a ship is suddenly taking huge unrepairable hits from a pair of Maquis raiders using phasers and only barely dipping into the threat pool?

Also note: the space combat Momentum spend chart doesn’t seem to include the Avoid Injury spend. Not sure if this is intentional or an oversight.

By the way, regarding torpedoes (or any other lethal oriented weapons) needing to generate threat to be used … there is absolutely nothing in the CRB that indicates that one cannot spend Momentum on the attack or damage roll. Not for ground combat and not for space combat. The Threat being generated here is not from a Momentum spend replacement, but from battle escalation. And in fact, according to the rules, even immediate Momentum spends can dip into threat in full or in part alongside using Momentum (CRB 86).

So I understand that the Penetration spend for ground combat is essential as I too don’t want players wandering around in powered body armor, lol. But for space combat, it’s utterly broken since it means ALL space combat, no matter how tiny the threat, is crazy dangerous. That inevitably means that space combat has to be rare, which for some players will be boring as hell.

Plus remember one ultra critical thing here: The default setting for this game is at the dawn of the Dominion War. So what happens if players want to participate? An adventure dedicated to freeing a colony from the Dominion WILL (not maybe) leave even the biggest PC ship a complete wreck after at most two battles. Although, granted, Jem’Hadar polaron weapons have built in penetration, so that’s maybe not the best example, lol. But replace those with Galor class cruisers and the penetrating threat still remains because they use phasers.

Space combat is supposed to be a drawn out affair unless one side has a clear advantage, rolls really well, or blows momentum on added damage. And there’s the kicker … I have no problem with spending Momentum for extra damage on a 1 for 1 basis. That seems totally fair. But the Penetration spend doubles that. And while it’s appropriate for ground combat on a thematic basis to discourage mechanized infantry, it’s grossly inappropriate in space combat. A ship taking multiple breaches every turn should be a clear sign that they are grossly outmatched and need to warp the hell out of dodge ASAP. It shouldn’t be normal.

I agree that space combat is a big deal and can result in a destroyed ship (though it’s not actually likely…Breaches get spread out in random systems for a reason, and PCs are better at their skills than most NPCs, making Called Shots tricky for NPCs most of the time). And even then, Disabled happens before Destroyed, and there are lots of reasons to stop there (including taking prisoners and stealing technology).

I strongly disagree with the rest. Yes, damage needs to be repaired, but that can be done off screen and between missions. It doesn’t need to be a big deal for the players any more than travel time does. You can casually say they go on combat missions and then get repairs before the next one. It doesn’t have to restrict play any more than you want it to.

As for Breaches being a big deal…not a single Breach on its own. A single Breach does almost nothing. You need your Ship’s Scale/2 before they have meaningful long-term effects, and their Scale before you’re really screwed. And that’s all in one specific system. Spread out, a Galaxy Class can take a dozen Breaches before suffering more than momentary problems (in practice, they won’t be that perfectly spread out, but still).

A Galaxy Class with four people can probably take out a Maquis Raider in a turn if used properly (ie: the Helm Officer uses Evasive Maneuver, the Science Officer does Scan For Weakness, the Tactical Officer shoots them with a called shot of some sort, the Commander orders the Tactical officer to shoot again doing the same thing again…this costs some Momentum and maybe Determination, but it’s a fight so you spend it). With luck, and the Area on their Phaser Array, they might even take out both in this way. Assuming they don’t manage that, the second one probably takes two rounds to take out without the Captain giving the Tactical Officer another action.

So assuming Area doesn’t take out both, the Maquis have, effectively, a total of four turns (one for each on the first round, then two for the remaining one) of shooting the Galaxy Class and probably five shots at most (one or two with an extra die due to the captain commanding them). These shots are all at Difficulty 3 (due to Evasive Maneuvers) when they need successes on an 11 or less (9 or less on their ship). Meaning that even if they spend 1 Threat per attack on extra dice to hit, many will miss. If they spend 3 Threat per attack on hitting, they get to 5 dice…and are still hitting on maybe two attacks. We’ll round up and say it’s three due to the commands mentioned above. But they sure aren’t making Called Shots. On average they will get a Breach on a hit if they spend some Threat on it, but they will have to spend at least one…maybe more if somebody Modulated the Shields. That’s three random Breaches (probably all on different systems), with plenty of time for the Engineer to repair Shields between them.

And that’s the version where they spend 17+ Threat on doing this (do you even have 17 Threat to throw into a single combat?). They get more like one attack landing if they only spend 1 Threat on extra dice (and thus only 6 Threat on attacks). So a fight with the Maquis that’s intended by the GM to be as dangerous as they can make it will still only cause a few Breaches, probably on different systems. That’s annoying, but hardly debilitating. You could likely get in two such fights before even needing repairs.

Now, more powerful ships and crews are obviously more of a threat, but they should be. A Galaxy can probably do about the same as listed above to two Galor Class Cruisers with only minimally more damage, and a dedicated PC warship can do so much worse than this to their foes that it’s silly.

In play, including in the beta, I found the 2:1 too potent.
Post beta play? a couple 1-shots. the system is fundamentally unchanged from the final beta version in terms of ship combat.

Penetration is, most of the time, the single most beneficial spend of momentum after the damage roll.
That’s also pretty obvious on first read, which is why despite not mentioning it, players have flocked to it.

If you’ve played with it and don’t like it then House Rule away, since you know what the consequences will be.

But a particular thing being the best choice in combat doesn’t make it a bad system element.

As noted, in personal combat, it’s to keep everyone from wearing armor all the time (a very counter-genre choice), and in ship combat it allows smaller ships to stand some chance against larger ones (something very in-genre), it reinforces genre conventions excellently and is, by definition, balanced between combatants since everyone can do it. I honestly just don’t see the benefit of ditching it (beyond making starship combat take longer, which I do not personally consider a good thing).

The issue, @Deadmanwalking, is that, in ship combat, it’s eliminating all other spends as viable, save vs small ships.

Also, balance isn’t just “Anything you can do I can do” but making the stats matter and having meaningful choices to make. When any choice but 1 is clearly suboptimal, that decision isn’t a meaningful one. In ship combat, at repeatable -2 soak per M., it makes the decision meaningless most of the time. Defeating opponents in ship combat is a race to a disabling breach. At -2 per momentum, only in special cases is any other choice besides “save it for later dice” even worth considering. Big damage vs small ships is one.

I agree that balance is more than everyone being able to do the same thing, and that stats need to matter…but they do. Scale 5 vs. Scale 4 is an extra Momentum to overcome the Resistance every time, as well as an extra action for NPC ships. That certainly matters.

Increasing tactical options is good…but this change doesn’t do that. It simply replaces needing to invest in Penetration with needing to invest in additional damage. It increases the costs of doing this…but in no way actually makes people do other things instead. In reality, it might not even change anything at all, since PCs could just give the GM Threat to get to the exact same damage numbers (ie: vs a Scale 4 ship, they spend 2 Momentum and give 2 Threat rather than just the Momentum, then the enemy spend 2 more Threat on damage as well)…Threat which the enemies then use to also get exactly the same results (okay, Scale winds up mattering very slightly more).

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, you changed the rules so that there was no Penetration and ships only had 1/2 Scale rounded up in Resistance. That would functionally change absolutely nothing in most combats, and it would not change tactics at all.

You’re getting hung up on the fact that everyone will do this like it prevents other options. It doesn’t. You can combine multiple momentum spends after all. And on a turn where you Scan For Weakness, you likely don’t need to invest in this at all, which expands tactical options exactly as Scanning for Weakness should.

It’s worth noting that, if you change Penetration to be 1 resistance ignored per Momentum spent… it becomes a less-useful version of just buying more damage, at which point it may as well not exist (diminishing returns on ignoring resistance kick in faster than diminishing returns on extra damage).

And, well, we do frequently see ships in the shows punch waaay above their weight, particularly hero ships. Take out the option, and smaller ships (like, say, an Intrepid-class) will basically be defenceless against bigger ships unless they’re very lucky or work extremely hard. Combat-specialised ships (any ship with a Security of 4 or 5) will do a lot of damage fast, but that’s by design - ships like the Defiant can tear apart ships much bigger than them.

And, honestly, in practice, I’ve found that attacks with phasers almost always use the first point of free Momentum to re-roll any blanks from the damage roll. On a heavy-hitter (anything rolling 8+ dice for damage, or 6+ dice and Vicious 1), that’s worth more than 2 points of damage on average for 1 Momentum.

You don’t take injuries in space combat (or rather, if you do it’s handled using the personal combat rules), so it isn’t relevant to the whole thing of ships shooting one another.

<It’s worth noting that, if you change Penetration to be 1 resistance ignored per Momentum spent… it becomes a less-useful version of just buying more damage, at which point it may as well not exist (diminishing returns on ignoring resistance kick in faster than diminishing returns on extra damage).>

I have yet to figure out how to directly quote someone, so please humor me here. The above statement is not actually true for one very important reason: Spread. Or any other “extra hit for half damage” style abilities. The reduction to resistance applies to the attack as a whole, not individual hits. And in this case, that half damage hit benefits more from a reduction in resistance than a boost to the base damage cut in half. So yes, there is still a perfectly valid reason to use the Penetration spend on a 1 for 1 basis.

<You don’t take injuries in space combat (or rather, if you do it’s handled using the personal combat rules), so it isn’t relevant to the whole thing of ships shooting one another.>

Yes, I get that. But I was referring to it’s usage to avoid a breach instead of an injury since space combat is supposed to use the same rules and momentum spends as ground combat. That being said, Avoid Injury as written is really damn useful for all those console explosions from Structure breach effects.

That depends on whether you have to spend again for the second hit via spread or Devastating attack, which makes 1:1 resistance drop superior if it’s pay once per attack.
the math, as is - and typical hits doing 5 damage (standard for torps and size 4+ warships)

Assuming two size 5 ships, typical phaser array, 8 damage dice, average damage 6

0 M Pen (MP) and 0M Damage (MD): (6-5)=1
1 MD: (7-5) = 2
2 MD: (8-5) = 3
3 MD: (9-5) = 4
4 MD: (10-5) = 5
1 MP: (6-3) = 3
2 MP: (6-1) = 5
3 MP: (6-0) = 6
4 MP: (6-0) = 6
1 MP & 1 MD: (7-3)=4
2 MP & 1 MD: (7-1)=6
3 MP & 1 MD: (7-0)=7
1 MP & 2 MD: (8-3)=5
2 MP & 2 MD: (8-1)=7
1 MP & 3 MD: (9-3)=6
2 Mda (devastating attack): (6-5)+(3-5) = 1
2 Mda +1 MD: (7-5)+(4-5) = 2
2 Mda +2 MD: (8-5)+(4-5) = 3
2 Mda +1 MP: (6-3)+(3-3) = 3
2 Mda +2 MP: (6-1)+(3-1) = 7
2 Mda +1 MP + 1 MD: (7-3)+(4-3) = 5

There is no case other than 4M where penetration isn’t the superior option.
So 1 M maximum damage is 1 for penetration at 3 damage
2 M maximum damage is 5 by 2M for penetration
3 M maximum damage is 6 by 3M for penetration
4 M Maximum damage is 7 by 2 pen and 2 damage or 3 pen and 1 damage
if we up the damage roll to 8, it only adds more than 3 to the devastating attacks…

Now, for torps with spread… 7die torps average 6 damage and averageing 2 effect
0M: (6-5)+(4-5) = 1
1MD: (7-5) + (5-5) = 2
2MD: (8-5) + (5-5) = 3
3MD: (9-5) + (6-5) = 5
1 MP: (6-3) + (4-3) = 4
2 MP: (6-1) + (4-1) = 8
3 MP: (6-0) + (4-0)= 10
1 MP +1 MD: (7-3)+(4-3) = 5
1 MP + 2 MD: (8-3)+(4-3) = 6
2 MP + 1 MD: (7-1)+(4-1) = 9
2 Mda: (6-5)+(4-5)+(4-5)= 1
2 Mda + 1 MD: (7-5)+(5-5)=2
2 Mda + 1 MP: (6-3)+(4-3)=4

Peak damage in all cases is penetration only
1M gets 4
2M gets 8
3M gets 10

Now, if shields are down
phaser arrays: to get the second breach needs 2 momentum for penetration; to get the third requires 3 momentum, 1 for pen and 2 for devastating attack

Photons: getting the third requires 2 momentum for penetration or an extra effect and 1 momentum.

I could go through and redo these at higher rolls, but that still makes extra damage the red-headed stepchild, penetration and the devastating attack become even more important.

A phaser at 10 damage rolled

  • 2 momentum:
    2 MD & 0 MP: (12-5)=5
    1 MD & 1 MP: (11-3) = 7
    0 MD & 2 MP: (10-1) = 9
    2 Mda: (10-5)+(5-5) = 5
  • 3 Momentum
    3 MD 0 MP 0 Mda: (13-5) = 8
    2 MD 1 MP 0 Mda: (12-3) = 9
    1 MD 2 MP 0 Mda: (11-1) = 10
    0 MD 3 MP 0 Mda: (10-0) = 10

    1 MD 0 MP 2 Mda: (11-5) +(6-5) = 7
    0 MD 1 MP 2 Mda: (10-3) + (5-3) = 9

A 10 point torp hit with similar, and again 2 effect

  • 2 Momentum
    2 MD 0 MP 0 Mda: (12-5) +(7-5) = 9
    1 MD 1 MP 0 Mda: (11-3) + (7-3) = 12
    0 MD 2 MP 0 Mda: (10-1) + (6-1) = 14
    0 MD 0 MP 2 Mda: (10-5) + (6-5) + (5-5) = 5 & 1-2 breaches
  • 3 momentum
    3 MD 0 MP 0 Mda: (13-5) + (8-5) = 13
    2 MD 1 MP 0 Mda: (12-3) + (7-3) = 13
    1 MD 2 MP 0 Mda: (11-1) + (7-1) = 16
    0 MD 3 MP 0 Mda: (10-0) + (6-0) = 16

    1 MD 0 MP 2 Mda: (11-5) + (7-1) + (6-5) = 15
    0 MD 1 MP 2 Mda: (10-3) + (6-3) + (5-3) = 12

As it is, the superior option is almost always “reduce resitance to 0 or 1, then go for devastating hit.” It’s so mathematically strong that the extra damage only comes after that. An “also ran,” not even a “win, place, or show” - as saving the momentum is worth more than the 1 point of damage except for torps, and then only if it raises torps to an odd damage point.

Noting that smaller ships vs each other, the same applies, but the damage is lower, and thus fewer breaches all around.

Assuming, of course, all of the above as being spent by reasonable players unwilling to dump double digit threat to do damage.

Penetration is extremely powerful, and is likely to be applied to most attacks. But there are perfectly good reasons to use the other spends on occasion.

There is of course the fact that dice rolls sometimes have a sense of humour. I’ve had groups roll off the 7+ challenge dice and only manage to hit 4 damage. Pair that against a ship with 4 resistance, using the 2 bonus momentum for penetration doesn’t get them to the breach.

In that situation, a lot of groups would just go for the re-roll, but thats still a gamble vs a certain point of extra damage. Another situation would be if the damage roll after penetration came to 9, with the target having 10 shields. Again, spending 1 momentum for extra damage there is a given.

Momentum spends aren’t always a case of either/or. This becomes a lot more obvious with extended tasks which use effectively the same mechanics.

I agree … but when one of the momentum spends becomes the de facto first spend nearly 100% of the time, that’s a problem. It clearly demonstrates how much stronger it is compared to the others.

Case in point your example above. Even if there is no breach, using two momentum on Penetration results in the shields losing 4 points from that attack since resistance ALSO applies to shields. On the other hand, using two momentum on extra damage would only result in 2 points of shield damage. Both are spending two momentum, but one is very obviously superior to the other.

This is why I’m implementing a house rule that’s changing the Penetration momentum spend to a 1 for 1 basis. It’s still overall better than extra damage due to it’s use for Spread attacks in ship to ship combat. But at least it’s not automatically the one to pick every single time. The added damage one becomes the better option when the Resistance is already dropped from effects like Scan For Weakness.


Does that house rule work if you were put your group up against something like a Borg cube?

That situation is already extremely difficult, but becomes even more so if you lessen the options.

There’s optimal choices in all role play games. I personally don’t think that means the choice is broken, just because it sees drastically more use.

Canon has massive losses from a fleet attack on a cube.

It’s not until the Enterprise crew generates several new traits that they stand a chance…

Shield frequency variation
ship’s Phaser frequency variation
Sensor programs for targeting specific nodes
Personal phaser frequency variation
optimized power for shields
localized reinforcement of key systems

plus, several characters seem to have personal temporary traits, as well.
And, they’re making more on the fly, too.

It’s actually too easy to take out a cube with the resources we see destroyed onscreen…

Let’s see. Enterprise-D is size 6.
As an NPC ship, that would be 6 actions.
Odds on 2d20 for for exceptional crew are 4@2, 11@1, and 5@0

S  2d20  3d20  4d20  5d20
0  6.25	 1.56  0.39  0.10
1 27.50	10.31  3.44  1.07
2 40.25	26.44 12.59  5.12
3 22.00	33.14 24.89 13.84
4  4.00 21.15 28.80 23.41
5  ---   6.60 19.91 25.80
6  ---   0.80  8.06 18.73
7  ---   ---   1.76  8.86
8  ---   ---   0.16  2.62
9  ---   ---   ---   0.44
10  --   ---   ---   0.02
Av 1.90  2.85  3.80  4.75 

If we figure the Tactical officer assisted by the ops officer, that;s 3D typical. Conn may also. Plus a “Pattern X” advantage, making TN1. ANd the ship’s die. So, the typical attack will be ~4 successes. If we count the preset brownian motion driven phaser frequency adjuster as another… TN0, so 4 successes.

Enterprises Phasers are going to be (checking the PDF) 8▲… 7.5 damage average (and 2.67 effect), and spread for that effect, that means needing 6 penetration.

WIthout any rule bending, We can get there under RAW… but the Borg should be able to drop 3 actions assisting, a 4th shooting, twice a round, and killing the enterprise in a couple rounds, while the Enterprise, at best, is shooting.

If we go with 1:1 as default, but able to be pushed to 2:1 with an advantage, one of the many on-screen actions that equate to “create advantage” as creating that advantage, and possibly another to add Penetration effect from tightly collimated beams… we can get to maybe 2-3 damage a turn to borg shields. Which, compared to the 16▲… 13.33 average damage, 5 average effect, vicious 1… and 5d20 (4 Crew actions) + 1d20 ship… but lower odds… average about 4.5 successes, so 2 momentum until they establish advantages…

Either way, the only reason the Enterprise survives in a mechanics method is a PC’s spending extra threat for extra dice, using Crew Teams as traits (they’re paid for in threat), and Minor Characters uncontrolled as help. Even so… The GM’s rolling bad, and the PCs having a hot night.

At 1:1 without boosting, Enterprise is toast. But that’s why Create Advantage exists: to provide the Macguffins which allow our protagonists to succeed.

Note that 1:1 works better for ship combat in general; it’s almost irrelevant in personal combat either way, unlike other 2d20 games. (Mutant Chronicles, Conan both are settings where armor is common. John Carter is also such a setting.)