In order to explain what it feels like, I need to first explain what it is, and what it is not.
CQB does not mean “I’m fighting someone inside a house, or at close range.” CQB is not urban fighting. It’s not a bunch of cops bumblefucking their way through a door trying to arrest a drug dealer. It’s not Solid Snake carrying a knife as well as his gun.
The U.S. Army defines CQB as “Sustained combative tactics, techniques, and procedures employed by small, highly trained special operations forces using special purpose weapons, munitions, and demolitions to recover specified personnel, equipment, or material. ” This is important, because the Army distinguishes CQB from MOUT, which is Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain, the general term for city fighting.
CQB, as far as the Army is concerned, is a specific subset of combat, conducted by trained professionals, emphasizing three things. These are: surprise, speed, and violence of action. You must achieve surprise over the enemy, typically by a rapid, unexpected, dynamic entry (or by the use of stealth) and possibly supported by distraction devices or pyrotechnics. You must quickly and speedily take the opportunity granted by your surprise advantage to maximize your effect on the enemy. And you must do so in a way that achieves complete domination over the enemy, both physically and mentally/psychologically, to minimize friendly casualties and maximize the effect on your enemy.
I have a feeling that you really need hands-on experience to roleplay CQB properly: it’s really special forces work, for specialized situations.
On the other hand, urban warfare is better documented, has more film and history behind it, and so it’s easier for an interested civilian Referee to model it in-game without too many glaring mistakes.
Also CQB is really kinetic: physicality, force, momentum, awareness, all bundled together in a handful of seconds. Not easy to roleplay properly with pen’n’paper: LARP is what you be using here, to do it right.
(And the dice is going to have a bigger say than the Referee, in many situations: who sees what in so many tenths-of-a-seconds…)
City fighting takes up more time, involves more tools and tactics, and has more moving parts for a Referee to get involved in. There’s more ebb and flow involved in city fighting, rather than 25 seconds of heart-pounding ACTION which is the essence of Close Quarter Battles.
So, Traveller is a lot more friendly to (relatively slow-moving) city fighting than to CQB. But for completeness sake, let’s get into how it feels like.
So, what does that feel like? It feels like quick, controlled intense violence. Picture it this way. Imagine you’re outside a door. You, and the other three men in the stack with you, are preparing to make entry. You know what’s coming. The people on the other side of that door don’t. There may be one of them, there may be six. You have no idea, and you have to be ready to respond to whatever happens, instantly, or you and the other three men in the stack potentially die. It’s dark. It may be smoky, depending what else is going on. You may be looking through night vision, seeing everything in a green haze, punctuated only by beams of infrared lasers slicing through the air like scalpels. The command to breach is given. The breacher forces the door open with a shotgun to the hinges; or maybe he batters it down with a sledgehammer; or literally detonates explosives and blows it off it’s fucking hinges. Perhaps someone throws a flashbang in, causing the room to erupt in literally blinding light and intense thunderclaps that stun you like a physical blow to the body. You push your way into the now smoky room, the first man in the stack, leading with your own body into the unknown. You key the weapon light activation switch on your carbine, flooding the room in a bright glow that highlights the swirling haze; or maybe you’re still wearing night vision and instead you trigger the IR floodlight “illuminating” the room for you only.
I just realized: boarding actions done by professionals are going to feel a lot more like CQB than anything else. Now, I have no intention of drawing the attention of some Imperial Marines on the job, but your PCs might, so to continue seeing things from their perspective for just a bit longer…
As you cross the threshold you literally feel aggression become a tangible thing within your body, becoming an object that rips itself from your throat in the form of sound waves, as you shout at people to get on the fucking ground. You become hyperaware of everything within the roughly 45 degree angle of responsibility that makes up your “sector”. You force yourself to ignore the movement you see off to the left — it’s not in your sector, it doesn’t exist, even though if the man behind you fucks up, you die. You see a human figure between you and your corner, and your life’s goal for the next few milliseconds is figuring out if you are going to end their life or not. Maybe you see an AK in their hands and your left shoulder muscles clench as you slightly boost the muzzle of the rifle in line with the center of their chest, watching the red dot of your optics come in line and then disappear in a muzzle flash as you send two rounds into their chest and shove their body to the floor while you continue to the corner of the room. You’re still shouting, partially just because, and partially to confuse anyone else in the room and make it more difficult for them to communicate. You reach the corner and pivot towards the center of the room, stepping to your “point of domination”, the location in which your fire sector interlocks with the rest of your team allowing you 100% control over the room. You see off to your left a man reaching for a pistol in his waistband, his eyes locked on you. He is outside your sector. For your purposes, he does not exist. A millisecond later his body is rocked by a burst from the teammate whose sector he had the misfortune of occupying. Interlocking fields of fire — everyone has each other’s back. The second man in the stack has mirrored what you did, in the opposite direction, while the third man (your team leader) has now cleared the door and established himself just inside, covering the center of the room. The fourth man makes his way in, covering your rear with the SAW (or breaching shotgun, if he had one). All of this took about 4-5 seconds.
Note: If I recall correctly, the Traveller turn during battle is six seconds long. A Referee who wants to get it right will have to draw up his own set of battle rules…
This is the four-man flood, the standard Army room-clearing technique. And holy shit, it never gets any less intense even though the overwhelming majority of the time the room is empty or occupied only by terrified civilians. As a rifleman, I was typically the #1 man in the stack. You’d never know what was on the other side. One raid, it was a “pigeon lady” — a crazy old woman who had hundreds and hundreds of pigeons loose in her house. There was shit everywhere, pigeons underfoot every time you walked. She lived next door to house where insurgents were hiding out — we were trying to get to them from her roof. The carefully orchestrated weaving in and out of team members flooding towards their assigned points of domination while reacting to unpredictable enemy and civilian presence, not to mention dodging cats, furniture, lamps, hookahs, and other detritus was better than any dance, and never the same thing twice.
That’s what CQB feels like. It feels like some kind of eruption of carefully controlled violence. It feels fucking awesome.
Skilled professionals are always in demand: but you need a team to do CQB (or for that matter, almost any front-line fighting, even sniping) right.
And then, there comes the problem of making up losses: a major military organization is geared for this, but a four-man independent small unit isn’t. Warm bodies can be found on poor worlds across the Imperium: competent, trained, experienced team players with the right instincts whom you can trust with your life, not so much.