Here's the deal: A ranged attack skill ignores any negative modifiers other than:
- AGI Bonus modifiers
- Double Tap modifiers
The question is: should it ignore other kinds of modifiers, such as "cover"--and even more to the point, what about L3 Hand-to-hand combat skills. Can they ignore, say, size modifiers, letting you kick things that are very small.
Things You Can't Ignore
The rationale for saying there are some modifiers you cannot ignore (such as Double Tap, AGI Bonus, or, let's say, the -1 for a Kick) is that those modifiers generally make the attack special. A double tap move lets you get two shots for 5 REA. That's a good deal and it only makes sense if you hit less well than otherwise. Same with a kick.
AGI Bonus is pretty sacrosanct since we rely on it to protect certain character types. Devaluing it would make AGI a lot less useful.
Things You Can Ignore
On the other hand, things like:
- Unstable firing platform
- Poorly aimed weapon
- Off-hand penalty
- Negatives from flash or other Resisted Attacks
- and so on ...
Ignoring these gives you a bonus for having a higher weapon skill and makes it pay off. We think that's fair. These are also usually not related to the attack itself--or to the character themselves. They are generally conditional.
So What About Cover?
When a character gets Cover they get a -1 to ... maybe -6 to be hit added to their AGI bonus. This is a big deal for things like attacking from a vehicle (where the vehicle gives cover even though most bullets will go through it) or movement in a room (where we are considering allowing "Tactical movement" to give a cover modifier in most urban environments to handle making use of terrain for properly trained characters).
At the core of the issue is this: L3 skills cost only 4 CP making them available to any character who is "serious." Most PCs who can fight or are supposed to fight at an "expert level" (which is, in our experience, a whole lot of them) will have an L3 skill either out of the starting gate or shortly after the game begins. This means that negative modifiers will get eaten up quickly.
If we make it so that Cover is reduced by L3 skill then, unless other modifiers are in play (which is not terribly likely) then taking cover won't help that much and won't be a big part of play. If we, on the other hand, treat Cover like AGI Bonus then it makes taking cover a huge part of play.
More importantly, in (many) games you can take several "shots" before you go down--but if you're playing 50 CP JAGS and playing a solider without body armor (say WWII?) then one hit from a rifle and your character if not dead is probably screwed ... badly. So if you are playing those sorts of games then the PCs will need to find ways to stay alive (outside of just "never entering combat") so cover is a potentially good part of the equation.
This came up during the Have-Not game Sunday night. My character had cover and as we were attacked by the L3 boss robot (Bone-Digger: the level is full of Call Me Al song references) I took cover and he chewed up the cover modifiers with his L3 skill.
We weren't exactly ambushing him and having things be more or less "straight up" made everything play more fairly. In real life there is a whole lot of ambush attacks--and many battles are mostly static with parties staying religiously behind cover. On the other hand, real-life chances to hit are a lot lower than 9- for most people--it just wouldn't be much of a game if we played out numerous rounds with 6- to-hit chances or something.
So I'm not 100% sure yet. I think that either (a) a lot of "real life battles" include L2 opponents so cover bonuses do make a big difference or (b) the play-value of having cover be really key is questionable. Either way, it seems that treating cover as another conditional modifier is more in keeping with the spirit of the game rules--with our logical foundations.
On the other hand, having it work on L3 opponents would lead to a lot more tactical cover-taking at every level of the game.