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I’ve been thinking about some very basic HQ construction rules for use in Superhero campaigns, Pulp Campaigns, etc, for quite some time now, after a number of earlier attempts failed because they got too complicated. At last, I think I’ve solved the major issues…

As I’ve mentioned before, Hero Games have very specific, but reasonably generous, restrictions on the publication of House Rules. I’ve talked about that before – refer to this article, where I implement a 3.x-style Initiative system in place of the Hero System’s relative-speed phase-based system, so I’m not going to go into it again here. To accommodate those restrictions, I have cut an awful lot of unnecessary material – examples, etc – out of this article. Virtually everything has been trimmed – fairly close to the bone. The first draft of this article was about 6000 words longer than this trimmed and redacted version – but I needed to write them in order to discover what was essential, and what was not. Hopefully I haven’t cut too deeply…

Essential Principles

Construction of a base and its features rely on three essential concepts or principles.

Description Line
No description can be longer than one line, or can have more than one clause. The use of words like “and” are forbidden because that tries to sneak two lines onto one, which matters for cost purposes. Each room consists of one line identifying the room (and its basic purpose, if necessary). Each additional capability provided by a room is given a separate description line below this first line.

The Standard Room
A standard room is a small room adequate for one purpose involving no more than four people. The size`will therefore vary according to social norms. A base is constructed of a whole slew of these standard rooms, some of which have additional features like increased size or added features incorporated.

It’s important to note that any facility that is normally present in such a room is included in the standard room, free. It has to contain the minimum facilities required to make it fit for the purpose that has been assigned to it. So a bedroom automatically comes with closets and a bed, a kitchen automatically comes with ovens, etc. In an era where electrical power is ubiquitous, outlets are automatically assumed to be present. Whatever the common standard for illumination is, whether that’s candlesticks and candles or a lantern or electric lighting, those come with the standard room, too. At this point in time we’re not quite at the point where any given room can be assumed to have internet access, though we have been edging in that direction for quite some time. Only if something is in advance of what is routinely assumed to be available does it start costing build points.

So the principle is that you define a lowest-common denominator and use that as your basic building block for the entire facility, and only have to worry about anything exceptional within an individual space.

Cost Structure
Costs are defined as Build Points. Each room has a basic cost, plus an extra cost for the added facilities that the room offers. All capabilities are manually controlled as standard; to automate a facility you need a dedicated computer room; you need to include a computer control capability into each room’s functions; and you need to match those with a computer of sufficient capabilities to operate those controls.

A second standard

For 5 Build Points, plus the cost of the variations, a second standard room can be defined, which can then be used as the basis for specific areas within the base. This is often done to distinguish between accommodations and common areas, for example. Further standards can be added, but the price of each additional one doubles – so a third standard area would cost 10 Build Points plus the price of the variations. Very few facilities need more than 3 standard room definitions.

Note that this means there are always multiple construction approaches that can be employed, of varying cost-effectiveness. As a general rule of thumb, unless you have 5+ rooms to be built to the same standard, it is unlikely to be cost-effective defining a new “standard room” (as opposed to individually customizing the basic standard room) – but not impossible. If you have 10 or more rooms to be built to the same standard, it is almost certainly going to be more cost-effective to design a new standard room. Those numbers double when you’re talking about a third standard room design, and quadruple when considering a fourth.

Room Size

The basic room size is that of a standard room – one function for four people, and costs 1 Build Point. The room is however large it has to be to provide that functionality, though for convenience, it should be an even multiple of the size of the standard room. So size is an abstract quality. Increasing this size costs an additional 1/2 build point to double the previous increase; the first increase is assumed to be 2 people. So: +0.5 BP = +2 people capacity, +1 BP = +2+4 = +6 capacity, +1.5 BP = +2+4+8 = +14 capacity, +2 BP = +2+4+8+16 = +30 capacity, and so on.

It’s important for increased size to be tracked separately from the base cost because the price of each additional function provided by the room is modified by the room size. If room size is increased in the definition of the standard room, that overhead still carries down to the cost of additional functions.

The total size cost of a room is rounded up at the end of construction.

Interior Walls

Each room has a base 1 Def and 5 HP. For those who don’t know the Hero system, DEF subtracts from the damage done by each attack on the object (the wall in this case), and remains until the wall runs out of Hit Points. Additional +1 Def on the standard room costs 2 Build Points, additional HP for the standard room costs 2 Build Points for +5 – but these then propagate throughout the facility, becoming part of the standard construction of each room.

Reinforcing can be added to individual rooms. The price of +1 Def or +5 HP of reinforcing is 0.5 BP, but there is also an overhead cost equal to half the Increased Size cost.

Additional Functions

Each additional function that you want a room to have costs 0.5 BP. That’s why the GM has to closely monitor the individual lines that are used to describe these additional functions. The idea is to ensure that nothing gets left out, but also to keep the functions sufficiently abstract that the base construction doesn’t get overly bogged down in minutia.

“Environmental Controls” can be assumed to include air conditioning, temperature sensors, etc.
“Security Systems” can be assumed to include the relevant sensors and alarms – but if you want the base computer to be able to monitor and control these, access the sensors, etc, that capability will need to be added to the computer. The potential is built in, though.

If the function is a non-standard piece of technology or equivalent (magic, psionic devices, whatever) those have to be built separately using the appropriate rules. This is an exception to the “function is automatic” rule – you can’t just label a room “Transporter Chamber” and automatically get a Star Trek -style teleporter system.

The idea is NOT to include any game mechanics other than those explicitly described; the goal is a functional description that can be interpreted into game mechanics when necessary. Anything that requires explicit game mechanics is bought separately, though the room may require an additional function, “ACCESS TO [device name]” incorporated.

Again, as a rule of thumb, if the device functions autonomously without controls, you don’t need to alter the base design; the room just happens to be where the device is located, and subject to whatever the device does. As soon as you give the base computer control over the device, or the capacity to monitor it, or otherwise integrate it into the base functionality, though, you need one or more features to accommodate that integration.

Vehicle Maintenance & Storage

As with Teleporters, vehicles don’t come with the base, they have to be purchased separately using whatever the appropriate game mechanics are. What you buy are storage and workshop space for the manual housing and maintenance of the vehicles. Working out the required size for such areas is a little trickier, though.

Each vehicle must have empty space around it equal to the half the maximum smaller-horizontal-plane dimension. The size of the room must be the sum of that empty space, the vehicle size (number of passengers), plus tools/facilities equal to the size of one vehicle, multiplied by the number of vehicles that can be simultaneously maintained. This total must then be converted into an area, which is then divided by the size of the standard room used as a bedroom and multiplied by 4. This gives the total number of “people” that must be accommodated, and permits the purchase of the room using “standard rooms”.

Got that? I didn’t think so. Try it with an example, spelt out step-by-step: we have a small fleet of 12 fighters in bays. These could be aircraft or little spaceships or whatever. Each fighter is 16m long and 8m across at it’s widest points (it’s also 4m tall, but we don’t care about that). Two fighters can be maintained at any given time. A standard room, used for accommodation for 4, is 4m x 6m, barracks style, with barely enough room to swing a cat.

  • The smaller dimension of a plan-view of the fighter is 8m at it’s maximum.
  • So each fighter needs 4m of space around it to permit access with appropriate tools – jacks, etc – for maintenance.
  • Each fighter therefore takes up 16+4+4 = 24m x 8+4+4 = 16m of space.
  • 24m x 16m = 384 sqr meters. We have 12 fighters to accommodate, so that’s 4,608 square meters of hangar space.
  • We want to be able to maintain two at once. Each has dimensions (including space) of 24m x 16m, and 16m x 8m (excluding space).
  • 24 x 16 = 384; 16 x 8 = 128m. So each maintenance bay requires 384 square meters plus 128 square meters for tools and parts, or a total of 512 square meters.
  • We want two of them, so that’s 1024 square meters.
  • The total area of the facility is therefore 4608 + 1024 = 5632 square meters.
  • The standard room is 4m x 6m, or 24 square meters.
  • The number of “people” this area must “accommodate” is therefore equal to 5632 / 24 x 4 = 938 2/3.
  • Room size is +4.5 BP for +1022 “people” capacity, which rounds up to +5 BP.

Dealing with Min-Maxers

The especially cost-conscious may have felt that we only needed space for 10 fighters in the preceding example, given that 2 of them can be kept in the maintenance bay. To such nit-pickers, I would point out that you will need room to move the vehicles to-and-from the maintenance bays, plus launch and recovery facilities, plus a separate fueling area, plus`fuel storage, and heaven help you if you need emergency services to deal with a crash… and that each of these can either be listed as an additional function of this space (cheap) or required to purchased as separate “rooms” in the base… and then ask if they’ve ever seen one of those sliding tile games? That would be what trying to get the fighter out of the back corner into the maintenance bays would be like…

Attempting to min-max these rules is easily and automatically handled simply by the GM being a bit more pedantic about his function definitions. This is fair game, since the min-maxer is, by definition, getting pedantic about details.

And, really, how many build points would this proposal save? Instead of 939-or-so people, the total comes to… 810 and 2/3 people. Points cost is exactly the same.

External Walls

Some base facilities may not have these – if they are built into a mountain, you could use the native rock as your “external wall”. But most will have something extra on the outside.

External Walls are built by taking the size of a standard room, defined in the same way as in the “hangar” example, and turning it on it’s side. You then take the surface area of the total facility – defined by the base layout – and do the same “divide by standard room area and multiply by 4” calculation. The result is the Size required to completely surround the base with an extra layer of the Def and HP of the internal walls, effectively defining the external walls as a special variety of “room”.

Base Construction

So a base consists of definitions for one or more standard rooms, plus the purchase price of those definitions; a list of individual rooms, each based on a standard room, and each with a list of their additional functions, and the costs of those rooms. Add the price of all those together and you have a total cost.

The beauty of using a “standard room” approach is that it turns the base’s elements into building blocks that can be assembled like Lego Bricks.

Conversions

So what are Build Points? The system listed above is so straightforward that it can be emplpoyed in ANY game system – whether that is a Pathfinder/3.x Fantasy game or a Hero System -based superhero or pulp campaign, or even a Cyberpunk campaign, or a Sci-fi campaign. You name it. But to do so, we have to work out some sort of conversion system.

In character-points-based systems, like that of the Hero system, it’s fairly easy. Define a standard building and a price for that building in character points, then construct it and work out how many Build Points it is. That gives you a character-points to Build-Points conversion rate.

Other systems don’t use Build Points – they use wealth, whether that’s gold pieces or “credits” or $$$. The same principle applies.

But that’s not the only variable. Construction Time is a big factor. This system gives no indication of how long it takes to build anything, but you can make some assumptions. Construction time for a 3-bedroom house in modern times is 3-6 months. Construction time for a similarly-sized roman villa using only period equipment, and assuming all the infrastructure that goes with that society, is also about 6 months, as proven by the documentary series Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day – though obviously the capabilities of the two buildings would be very different.

How much time can you save by throwing money (in the form of additional labor) at a building project? How much can you save by taking your time?

Consider This

There are three factors to consider when attempting to answer these questions. The first is that part of the construction will be time-locked; concrete and mortar needs to set and cure before it will support construction, and you can’t increase or decrease the time required for those parts of the construction process.

The second is that part of the construction may be time-critical, needing to be complete in a specific period of time. This was a definite part of the construction of the Roman Villa, for example; once the frame went up, it was critical to get the roof done before the rain came, and before seasonal strong winds had the chance to damage the frame. I’m not sure modern constructions are quite so time-critical, but that might simply be a case of modern tools getting more jobs done within a critical timeframe so that people don’t realize that a construction phase is still time-critical. Between them, both these compromise the amount of the total construction process that is manpower-sensitive.

Efficiency is another key question. Adding more people to any given manual task reduces the effectiveness of each individual, and eventually you need to take people out of working directly on the project and set them to work supervising and coordinating others to mitigate that loss in efficiency.

Applying these considerations

Let’s assume that 10% of the construction time is manpower-insensitive, and another 20% is time-critical. Only 70% of the construction time is variable. so next, let’s say that each doubling of manpower reduces this variable period – first to 80% of what it was, then 85%, 90%, and 92%, 95%, 97%, and 99% thereafter.

80% of 70% = 56%;
90% of 56% is 50.4%;
92% of 50.4% is 46.37%;
95% of 46.368 is 44.05%;
97% of 44.05 is 42.73%; and
99% of 42.73 is 42.3%.

So increasing the workforce 64-fold gets 70% of the work done in 42.3% of the time, and is well beyond the break-even point. Increases beyond this point will be relatively trivial, people will be getting in each other’s way more than helping – and may even be decreases, with the drawbacks exceeding the benefits.

So all you need to do is set a base price and base number of workers and hey presto – the numbers come spilling out.

Of course, you can make other assumptions, and those might well be more valid than mine. Consider this to be just a starting point – whether you’re talking about a Hovel, a castle, or a satellite base in orbit. The goal is to create a set of functional spaces, defined in a logical fashion and in such a way that everyone can just get on with the game.

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