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On using graded civilians in FOTS

Graded entities – Typically, graded officers, graded administrators, graded scientists, and graded spymasters – are one of the most frequently misunderstood elements in the game. Each provides a certain bonus to the military units, colonies, or projects under his/her/its control. While this bonus has never been terribly large, graded entities have been frequently offered vast amounts of AP in race design, RP’s in play, and player attention so that rather than being useful or fun, they’ve been traps to fall into. The following is an attempt to put their uses and limitations into some sort of perspective.

Graded entities, in addition to their bonus to targeting, colony income, Bureau OP generation, R&D effective funding, or covert operation effective funding, provide a greater flexibility of operation in case of spacecraft under the command of a graded officer or in a region administered by a graded administrator. This command authority isn’t something to which an RP cost can easily be put, and it is certainly welcome. Three considerations should be noted lest one get carried away with graded officers or administrators for this purpose. First, it isn’t a substitute for careful order-writing on the part of the player, which can often do a better job and has no RP cost whatever. For that matter, if you’re not going to do a thoughtful job of writing the orders, if having a graded officer in command on the scene causes the GM to ask you what you’d like done in the event something happens, you may not respond any better for being asked then rather than anticipating possible contingencies in the written turn orders. Second, in many such situations, a GM would look for player response during the turn anyway. Third, it’s sufficient for the commander of a detachment to have that command authority – there’s no advantage of this sort to having junior officers with the command flexibility of a graded officer so long as that’s where they’re deployed. For this purpose, it’s quite enough to have a single graded officer sufficient to command it per separate force.

The other “bonus” provided by graded entities is sheer role-playing fun. Some players may hesitate to fill in the personalities of the people in command of their military forces and civilian operations without some game-mechanical hook for them, and graded entities in FOTS provide that game-mechanical hook. Frankly, that’s why they’re in the game at all, and the other bonuses they have are dependent on that. The game could go on perfectly well without 0 space “systems” of modest cost that provide slight target bonuses to varying numbers of ships in a given fleet. If you’re not using your graded entities as roleplaying hooks, you really, really shouldn’t bother with them. And if you’re determined to use them, for the love of fun, please have that role centrally in mind.

The simply mechanical bonus provided by graded entities varies with the entity. Graded officers provide a target bonus, or an Attack Rating (AR) bonus, to the spacecraft, ground unit(s), or boarding parties under their command. Graded administrators provide a bonus to the income of colonies under their governance. Graded scientists provide a bonus to the effective funding of R&D projects under their supervision, and graded spymasters provide a similar bonus to their covert operations. Graded admins or spymasters can increase the Operations Points generated by Bureaus or Spy Networks. Higher ranking entities provide a bonus to a broader range of ships, colonies, or projects, with a higher cost to train them.

As bonus-generators, graded entities should be compared to the cost to get that much effective increase by other means and to various technologies that may provide such bonuses. Comparing them to various technologies, graded entity bonuses are very small. A level of natural intelligence or R&D Tech, for instance, will provide four times the average bonus of a graded scientist, and that will be to every project without additional cost. Graded entities may stack, but that does mean buying even more of them and the total bonus from stacking is limited anyway. So players should realize that AP’s in race design or RP’s in in-game research bent on increasing the utility of graded entities bonuses are probably a waste. That you want to do it for role-playing purposes is wrong-headed: role-playing purposes are served by the interpretations we put on our game-mechanical activities. If you want “a fine, professional, highly-motivated officer corps”, you can play that out with various tactical technologies or natural abilities just as well as with an ability specifically labeled “natural officers” to add to graded officer skill rolls, and you could probably do it better with carefully considered and written turn orders and interesting game fiction and background on the graded officers you pay for or the game-mechanically “invisible” ones that are there RP-free.

But compared to various technologies or natural bonuses, graded entities are baseline capabilities. Mining stations as much as graded administrators are usually a terrible investment compared to colonization, but they both have some niche and a player ought to be as well able to use them effectively in their niches as to avoid overusing them outside that role.

Graded administrators

A grade-1 administrator costs 16 RP’s and improves the RP production of a single governed colony by his or her skill roll, or 1-10%. On average, that will be a 5.5% bonus to colonial production. For a cost comparison, the likely rival to raising a graded administrator is colonizing more planet somewhere. A reasonably vigorous survey program for a race without special colonization bonuses or penalties will provide plenty of real estate to colonize at a multiplier of 1.0, 1.2, or 1.5. 16 RP’s spent on a planet with a colonization multiplier of 1.5, to take the worst likely colonization site candidates, will provide 10.67 RP’s of production. A grade-1 administrator with that average SL of 5.5 (putting aside that none will actually have a SL of point-anything) would need to administrate a world of 194 RP’s or more to provide greater income. If you’re satisfied with the worlds your surveys provide for your colonization at a lower colonization multiplier, graded administrators will be less attractive; if you’re colonizing worse worlds, the admin-1 will be more attractive. Also, the size of the colony matters for assigning a graded administrator while it doesn’t for the rate at which colonization of it repays. Thus, if you’ve got a vast number of 20 RP worlds to colonize, each cheaply, then you really don’t have any place to assign any grade-1 administrators, while if you’re colonizing plenty 400 RP worlds, there’s far more impetus to get them governors.

A grade-2 administrator can govern an entire inhabited star system, but costs twice what a grade-1 administrator does. System governorship will be most useful with multiple colonized planets, obviously; otherwise, it’s just a desperate way to stack two administrators on some world that’s so productive (e.g., a large SRP or almost any SSRP world) that any little percentage bonus to that massive income is attractive. Depending on your choice of planets, an inhabited star system may have one or many colonies. For most terrestrial races, most star systems have only one decent candidate for colonization, and so system governors will be rarely useful. But some races will frequently colonize many planets in a system because they like planets that go together frequently, and others will have special colonization techs, notably robots/androids, that make almost any old rock a colonization candidate. For them, extensive use of grade-2 administrators can make for relatively cheap 1-10% production bonuses for many, perhaps most of their colonies. That’s not bad for a baseline capability – for those relatively few with that sort of use for it.

A grade-3 administrator can govern a single sector. What sort of colonial wealth that represents will vary wildly, based on species, techs, and what MapGen kicks out in that sector. At 128 RP's, boosting income by an average 5.5%, assuming a typical input to output ratio of RP's spent to RP Production gained before bonuses of, say, 5 to 4 (a Class N rate), 128 RP's becomes a good deal with a 5.5% bonus when you get 106.67 RP's out of it, governing 1940.4 RP's of colonies in that sector. Command authority for a G3 admin is a significant issue though, since it spreads throughout a sector. You could use it for several local defense forces without bothering with graded officers to command each primarily for that purpose. Many species designs will get 1940 RP's or more out of a typical sector, so a typical sector may reasonably use a typical G3 admin as a governor. Some won't, and if you generate too many G3's to get the better rolls from a larger spread, you may suffer for having paid too much more for a modestly better skill roll spread.

Graded scientists

A grade-1 scientist costs 16 RP’s and adds his or her skill level as a percentage boost to the effective funding of one R&D project. Science stations are their natural counterparts, since they too add such a percentage to their projects. However, science stations may be stacked with one another with however many lab bays all on one project to whatever level, while grade-1 scientists do not stack with other grade-1 scientists supervising a single project. So for the player interested in boosting project funding with science stations or graded scientists beyond 10%, it’s not a question of grade-1 scientists or science stations, but one of science stations alone versus science stations plus a grade-1 scientist thrown in.

A typical, frugal 2nd gen science station may run to the following:
Science station – Hull: 6; Equipment: 18 (5 hull sold for space, 23 lab bays, base, -30 DEFENSE); Stats: 0,0,0,1; Cost: 48 RP’s
Each point of R&D bonus here costs 2.09 RP’s. A grade-1 scientist at 16 RP’s has an average R&D bonus of 5.5, for 2.9 RP’s per point of R&D bonus. Thus, grade-1 scientists are bad deals, plain and simple. You may buy them pregame on a budget line that couldn’t include science stations and on which you really, really wanted R&D support, or you might buy them for cheap rolls and promote the good ones to grade-2 instead of taking your chances directly at grade-2, but that’s about it for the utility of the grade-1 scientist.

A grade-2 scientist costs 32 RP’s and performs the same service for 2 to 4 related projects. Assuming you have two to four related projects going on at once – not impossible, but not trivial – this means that the grade-2 scientist may be 100-200% as efficient as the grade-1 scientist. Here is where the higher ranked scientists may pull ahead of the science station competition. For instance, where the 16 RP grade-1 SL 5.5 scientist runs you to 2.9 RP’s per point of R&D bonus, the 32 RP grade-2 SL 5.5 scientist working on four projects runs to 1.45 RP’s per point of R&D bonus, significantly ahead of piling on more science stations, each working on only one of those projects at a time. If you can find them three related projects on which to work, it comes to 1.94 RP’s per point of R&D bonus, or marginally ahead of the science station. Circumstances will vary, of course, but from my own experience, finding two related projects going on at a time can be difficult, and three or four is much less likely, so it may be hard to employ many grade-2 scientists in such a way as to make it better than just sticking with more science stations. Your luck is likely to increase with larger budgets. Note that just doing more projects with less funding each is counter-productive, since the value of the bonus depends on the RP's spent to date: more projects with less funding mean less benefit each from a scientist or a science station.

A grade-3 scientist costs 128 RP’s and provides the bonus to up to 16 projects, with no requirement that they be related. Here, we’re cooking with gas. Finding up to 16 projects isn’t likely to be hard for at least one grade-3 scientist, and hopefully more as your R&D list grows. This means the grade-3 SL 5.5 scientist can provide 88 points of bonuses, and at 128 RP’s, that’s 1.45 RP’s per point of R&D bonus – as good as the grade-2 scientist may get, but trading in the need to have four related projects to supervise for that of having sixteen projects, related or not. That’s likely to be easier to satisfy, but it does mean a decent number of projects going on at once. This is likely to mean that you have few grade-3 scientists usefully employed, and as always, the R&D bonus you’re likely to get economically from graded scientists is likely to be dwarfed by that you get from science stations, simply because the graded scientists don’t stack freely the way lab bays do.

Graded spymasters

Graded spymasters may be used to run specific operations or to run specific Bureaus or Spy Networks. This latter function may be performed by graded administrators as well. Since a Bureau or Network is defined by the Operation Points (OP’s) it generates, the analysis of a graded Bureau or Network chief is more like that of a graded admin as a colony or system governor than is the analysis of one running an operation, which is more like an R&D project. But that analysis in turn is complicated by the fact that there are no baseline technologies that serve like lab bays for direct competition. In that case, the comparison has to be with spending more on the operation, or funding the Bureau or Network more instead paying for the graded spymaster.

A grade-1 spymaster costs 16 RP’s and adds his or her skill level as a percentage to the effective funding of a covert operation under his or her management, or to the effective OP budget of the Bureau or Network under management. For 16 RP’s, the player could instead fund an operation to 16 more RP’s, or increase the Bureau or Network by 16 OP’s a turn. The increased funding of a specific operation isn’t an ideal comparison, however, for two reasons. First, more operation funding is of immediate use – you pay for it this turn, and the operation has that much more chance of success this turn, whereas the grade-1 spook is in training this turn and only useful starting next turn. But second, the grade-1 spook is useful every turn after that, whereas once the operation is over, its funding is used up. Still, a one-to-one comparison isn’t completely baseless – that immediacy versus that reusability is a plausible wash. 16 RP’s becomes 5.5% of an operation’s funding at 291 RP’s. That’s likely to be a fairly low-budget project – it only has about a 12% success chance, which means it is absolutely nothing you can count on for timely planning, but has a significant chance of giving you a pleasant and hopefully useful surprise. If you’re inclined to run projects of decent individual funding, one grade-1 spymaster each is a decent investment – one of small return for slightly smaller outlay.

The same figures apply for management of a Network or Bureau. The application is more to the point here though, since, unlike particular operations, funding a Bureau or Network does last and doesn’t take effect already this turn. So a grade-1 spymaster – or administrator – is a good investment for a Bureau or Network larger than 291 RP’s, and any Bureau or Network from which you expect reliable results will be much larger than that. There is, of course, a prior question – is the large Bureau or Network itself worth the cost? 291 or 500 or 1000 RP’s are not chump change, and covert operations are some of the most notorious ways in FOTS of wasting your RP’s for no return but mortal diplomatic danger. This is a serious question but not one I want to explore here.

For twice the cost, a grade-2 spook can run 2 to 4 operations of the same type or target, 2 to 4 Bureaus, or 2 to 4 Networks, and again, a grade-2 administrator can do the same for Bureaus or Networks. If you have 3 or 4 operations of the same type or target going on at a time, the grade-2 spymaster can be more economical than a several grade-1 spymasters, and you may well employ them on very well-funded operations in addition to a grade-1 spymaster just for stacking. Much the same applies to Bureaus and Networks – if you have that many to run

A grade-3 spymaster may run up to 16 operations, Bureaus, and/or Networks, for eight times the cost of a grade-1 spymaster. If you can keep a grade-3 spymaster – or several! – employed, they’re great values. If not, not.

Improving on 5.5 – Promotions and Retraining

Grade-3 administrators, scientists, and spymasters particularly have ranges of command such that most players won’t employ many of them, and they will have bonuses that apply to a great range of colonies or projects. As a GM will require all graded entities to be kept busy or else professional upset will occur, and professional upset among the sorts who run a third of your empire or your entire covert operations and internal security establishments is cause for concern, you will probably want to have a relatively small number of grade-3 civilian entities with better than average skill levels.

Not counting sheer luck or assassinating the underachievers, there are a couple ways to assure this.

One is retraining. When you raise a graded entity and you don’t care for their roll, you throw them back to the academy, pay for them all over again, re-roll, and have a guaranteed minimum new skill roll no worse than the old one.

The other is promotion from a larger body of lower grade entities, selecting the good ones for promotion. Here, you’re using the lower cost of the lower grades to make the rolls, and paying to train up the ones you know are good. This also takes some time – one turn working for administrators, and however many turns it takes for a successful project or operation for scientists and spymasters, in addition to a training turn. (But spymasters and scientists coming off a dramatic success can be bumped up two grades in a swoop.)

If you have the time and attention – and, especially, things for the lower grade entities to do – the promotion route may be more economical. If not, retraining can do too, and there’s no reason not to mix them as circumstances warrant. For example, if you’re making some use of grade-1, -2, and -3 administrators and you’re primarily using retraining to get decent grade-3 administrators, you might decide to get your next one training up a grade-2 administrator when you happen to roll a 10 for skill level on one you just raised.


Graded entities all are useful in improving the effectiveness of the ships, colonies, or projects they command. As such, their value depends on the quantity of what you can put under them, and when you have competition for RP’s between a graded entity and more of what they run, hankerings after “leadership” and “quality” can lead you astray in what are really quantitative decisions. Without stacking, even where graded entities provide a cost-effective enhancement to their subjects, it’s going to be a modest one. But within their limitations, graded entities can provide an edge to a thoughtful, careful player who makes suitable use of them.

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Page last modified on May 02, 2014, at 12:05 PM