Let's say that I, like many other worldbuilders before me, want to have 'classical' (space-operatic) space fighters and carriers in a space setting.
However, I don't want to do it by fiat and handwaves. Instead, I would like to make such a military doctrine (of having classic space fighters) to emerge naturally out of the preconditions of the setting. When I say preconditions, I mean a combination of available technologies and perhaps even modest adjustments of the laws of nature - so long as either of the two can be logical, clearly stated, and follows firm, comprehensible and unbiased rules.
In other words, soft-sci adjustments are acceptable and welcome, but their consequences are meant to be handled in a science-respecting manner, leading to the desired outcome. For example, lack of light-speed beam weapons is a clear and unbiased precondition (despite being at odds with physics as we know them), and its consequences can be analysed logically; giving plot armour inversely proportional to ship mass isn't.
Natural emergence implies that if the setting used in an RPG campaign or tabletop wargame, and players given the ability to design their own ships, they would still tend to design fleets including fighters, carriers and perhaps other heavy ships, because those tactics should be effective based on the preconditions. Essentially, preconditions are deemed robust if they produce the classical meta, and deemed wrong if they lead to people finding a quick way to break the meta by designing ships in ways contrary to the classical meta.
I used the word 'classical', which is a perhaps awkward shorthand by which I mean similar to the way ships tend to be divided into space fighters and carriers (with or without the existence of intermediary classes), as depicted in operatic or operatic-leaning stories often deemed classics or trying to imitate them. My primary examples would be Star Wars (of course), Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica (re-imagined and probably original), Infinite Warfare, and to some extent Rogue Trader, but surely there are others that are going for a similar setup.
In terms of more specific parameters I'm looking for, here are ones that jump to the front of the mind:
- Both fast, manoeuvrable one-man fighters and big heavy ships are important elements in any space battle, and victory without either would be hard. Essentially they're two major sides of a combined-arms doctrine.
- Human or human-like reflexes and intelligence dominate the outcome of battles, closely followed by equipment quality, but equipment doesn't do everything for the humans. The droids/autopilots/aimbots haven't replaced captains, pilots and gunners.
- Dogfights are a thing, though they don't necessarily need to follow the style of atmospheric dogfights. Newtonian or semi-newtonian dogfights are reasonable alternatives, so long as things like manoeuvring, tactics and positioning matter.
- Fighters haven't been invalidated by missile buses, automated mass-fire point defence, nor by other saturation-oriented warfare methods.
- Big ships and fighters are both capable of hurting and killing each other in the medium/long run, but not instantly when the combat just started. There's some attrition, but battles don't last forever, and no ship is so big as to be immune to the death of a thousand cuts.
So, what sorts of preconditions would lead to a natural emergence of the above situation when it comes to space battles and tactics?