Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Level 3

In JAGS a Level 3 combat skill ignores "-3 points of negative modifier." Usually this is applied to ranged weapons ignoring environmental modifiers--and, as one of our players pointed out, the rule book has some overly specific verbiage about what modifiers can be ignored.

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:
  • Range
  • Size
  • Speed
  • Visibility
  • Unstable firing platform
  • Poorly aimed weapon
  • Off-hand penalty
  • Recoil
  • 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.

My Thoughts
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.



  1. I suspect by the time you're dealing with L3 combatants that cover should be a legitimate target for offsets.

    On the other hand, perhaps I haven't understood something: I was under the impression those offsets went against the _total_ penalties, not each of them individually. Am I in error?

  2. You are correct--the -3 is against all the mods together, not each of them. If I made it sound like that above, it's just bad writing on my part.

  3. Okay. Just wanted to make sure I hadn't failed my reading comprehension in the rules. Its been known to happen.

  4. Engaging in a bit of recreational heresy here: what if AGI and 2xTapping weren't exempt?

    In the case of 2xTapping a rule somewhere would probably need to change to make the move not-too-good, but in the case of AGI, the justification for exempting AGI is that it protects some characters.

    I'm not sure that's true anymore: check my thinking. Few powers will get AGI bonuses over -3 to be hit; most characters will have a 12 AGI and AP powers that (at most) add an additional point and / or allow all AGI mods to apply to all attacks (or, more simply, allow AGI mods to apply to ranged attacks).

    Hard-to-hit characters rely more on negative damage mods (-8 v. PEN damage) to stay alive.

    What this means is that -- in practice -- the JAGS equivalent of medium-powered Spiderman has a -3, or maybe (maybe) -4 AGI mod and -8 DM v. PEN. He isn't all that hard to hit (10-), but is very hard to hit /well/ (especially with something like a rifle) -- total of -12 DM's.

    If L3 mods worked against AGI, that would allow higher AGI's (or, more likely, higher AGI Mods) which would be devastating v. L2 characters, but not truly effective against L3 characters.

    If JAGS Spider Man had an effective 16 AGI, he'd perform exactly as he does today against L3 characters, but be very hard to hit (and nearly impossible to hurt) for L2 (-14 effective damage mods against PEN damage).

    This would effectively force L2 characters to aim -- something the game could use a bit more of anyway.

    Also, I like the effect of Spider Man being missed a lot, rather than taking a bunch of flesh wounds.

    Just thinking...

  5. The issue with allowing offsetting AGL mods is that it likely makes games without heavy use of Archetype abilities essentially first-shot contests; that may be a bit grittier than even gritty games want to get in those cases.

    As an aside, its also probably not benign to make L2 combat skills too unattractive; otherwise your competent but not overwhelming combatant PCs will feel system pressure to change that.