Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Monitors: Injury models

I'm inclined to think that a system where soft and hard attacks both work really calls for building things around a variety of attack types, rather than having physical damage and then trying to tack on mechanics for blinding or paralysis after the fact.

There are some issues with erosive damage as discussed last time - it can create a death spiral, which is probably bad on the whole. It's also tricky to create a meaningful balance of attribute scores vs. weapon damage vs. armour - if numbesr are very low then you don't get to roll much in the way of dice, and armour values are limited.

On the other hand, my common model is likely to have main characters with scores of ten or more, and minor NPCs with scores of 1-5. This means on average it'll take three d6 of damage to harm a PC, which means you could easily have decent weapons doing 1d6 damage, and 'armour' values of 0-4, retaining some random element and an interesting range of armour. And I've already mentioned a damage floor of 1 for any successful hit. Particularly powerful weapons could do 1d8 or 1d10, and weak ones 1d3, so characters can't completely shrug off weaker attacks, but can afford to risk a fair few attacks because they'll only take 1 damage per hit.

Perhaps most significantly, though, it's looking like an awful lot of work for the GM. I have no particular problem with players tracking fifteen fluctuating scores if those are what the entire game is built around, but a GM simply cannot be expected to handle that level of granularity for NPCs and enemies. In a computer game, fine, but not in P&P. That suggests to me that GMs would need a different system for handling NPCs,

What else have we got?

Global erosive resolution

Dan proposed using all-round erosive damage as a general combat resolution system. It's a nice idea, but I haven't been able to see a way that it would really work out (which may be my failing, of course).

For one thing, if you're trying to use Parley to weasel information out of an NPC, fail your roll and take Parley damage, it seems to me you're either trapped in a death-spiral, or else turn to a different skill - at which point you may was well just have a single pass/fail roll rather than tracking damage to the skill. Unlike combat, where it's expected you use the same skills repeatedly, in non-combat interactions people expect to switch between their skills. However, I suppose I could try to structure the rest of the game so that certain non-combat interactions also have a similar back-and-forth feel (but would this kind of "social combat" be more or less fun than just making one roll and getting on with it?).

Whereas, say, being injured and thus being worse at all physical tasks kinda makes intuitive sense, it's much harder to see how a generalised Bureaucracy damage would work - does clashing with an administrator in one office really reduce your ability to do paperwork somewhere else? In a quite specific system, say a Paranoia-style game where there might be a single monolithic (and hostile) Bureaucracy for you to interact with, then this would make sense and potentially be quite fun. However, I don't feel like it's a great fit for the world-hopping game of Monitors. Similar issues concern me with skills like Tech or Science - although Occult could perhaps work if we assume some kind of "psychic sensitivity" is affected and impedes both theory and practice. While offending the official might make things harder for you, the idea of having them somehow actively whittle down your skills seems quite weird to me. If they don't, though, this is basically a case of failing rolls and taking penalties. It just seems like actual penalties might be a simpler way of dealing with this kind of thing.

It also strikes me that Bureaucracy damage might work better in a game with lingering effects from various conflicts. Your clashes with the Administratrix of Galos Major follow you around, hampering other efforts to interact with officials or get records, but eventually her influence fades or is negated by other goings-on. However, I see Monitors as a game with rapid recovery between events for that adventurous feel, in which case you'd only be looking at erosion of a skill within a single scene, or at most within a short segment of a game. Is that going to be significant enough to be worth tracking?

In short: a nice idea, but I personally can't get it to work. Suggestions welcome.

Injury rolls

This is basically a one-size-fits-all model, where you just roll a die on a chart to see how badly you're hurt.


Roll a die and consult the chart below, adding the starting score of your existing status to the total. This means hits quickly build up to serious consequences.

Score Result Effect
1-3 Pinned Take a penalty on all actions unless in cover.
4-5 Winded Penalty on all physical actions.
6-7 Hurt Penalty on all actions; bonus to other injury rolls
8-9 Staggered Lose one action per turn; penalty on all actions and Speed.
10 Down Cannot take actions.

Score Result Effect
1-3 Distracted Penalty on all actions (Will to ignore)
4-5 Dazzled Penalty on appropriate actions.
6-7 Disoriented Penalty on all actions; bonus to other injury rolls
8-9 Stunned Lose one action per turn; penalty on all actions and Speed.
10 Blind Entirely blind. Must test for falling over during movement. Must test to move in right direction. One penalty per five feet on all ranged actions. Auto-fails visual rolls. Cannot read. Penalty to most actions.

The main problem here is coming up with meaningful statuses that don't make things really complicated (again, GMs are at the forefront of my mind). Interaction with armour is another question. As I was thinking of having armour reduce damage rolls, it could easily be that armour makes it impossible to do anything but pin characters (especially PCs) by reducing all damage to 1. This may be a case where critical hits are actually a good idea - perhaps a roll of 1 (remember, d20 roll under) always increases the injury level by at least one rank, or simply ignores armour.


In this model, all weapons roll the same die for damage. However, some grant a bonus to the die, while armour (and equivalent protective gear) imposes a penalty. A hit roll of 1 ignores armour. Penalties for different kinds of injury stack, so a hurt, dazzled, dazed target grants three bonuses to an injury roll.PCs and other notable creatures can roll for recovery as an action, but minor NPCs do not. Recovery is based on an appropriate attribute. Some peculiar creatures can roll for recovery without spending an action. Some creatures are vulnerable or resistant to particular forms of damage; for example, a nocturnal predator may be vulnerable to blinding.

Injury Rolls
Score Wounding Blinding Slowing Stunning
1-3 Pinned
Bonus to subsequent injury rolls. Penalty to all actions. Auto-recover by spending an action.
4-5 Hurt Dazzled Hampered Dazed
Bonus to subsequent injury rolls. Penalty to physical rolls. Bonus to subsequent injury rolls. Penalty to rolls requiring vision. Bonus to subsequent injury rolls. Penalty to speed and rolls requiring movement. Bonus to subsequent injury rolls. Penalty to rolls requiring thought.
6+ Wounded Blinded Slowed Stunned
Out of action

Simple, yet somehow unsatisfying. Maybe this would work for NPCs, but I'm not at all convinced for PCs. This is very closely based on the Necromunda rules, where players have five to twenty models; I feel like with only a single character, you'd want a bit more resilience.

Numerical models

Here damage is quantitative rather than qualitative.

For example, being blinded may impose a penalty on just about everything. A hit from a blinding weapon imposes 1d6 rounds of blinding on the target, subtracting any resistances it may have, to a minimum of 1. Cumulative hits may increase the number - bombarding something with flash grenades won't finish it off, but will keep it blinded for a very long time.

Threshold model

Any blindness imposes a penalty on the target whenever vision is important to their actions. Every 5 levels of blind impose an additional penalty, meaning soft weapons can still render enemies ineffective in large numbers. Thus, a creature blinded for 25 rounds suffers a full 5 penalties on its actions, and is not really a threat. A typical weapon imposes 1d6 rounds of blindness, resisted by flare guards in visors, adaptive eyes, and certain other technological or biological countermeasures, to a minimum of 1 round. Similarly, some weapons may affect Speed, or other properties.

To minimise GM overhead, these weapons might work differently against many NPCs, as indeed may damaging weapons. For example, any roll of 3+ on a die might eliminate a minion-level enemy, regardless of the weapon type.

Another downside of this model is that it doesn't offer a way to actually eliminate targets.

Capacity model

Any blindness imposes a penalty on the target whenever vision is important to their actions. Rather than fixed thresholds, a creature has three states: a basic 'dazzled' state when they take any damage, a 'stunned' state if the number reaches half their Perception score, and a 'blinded' state if it equals or exceeds their Perception (effectively eliminating them). This system would allow for cumulative hits, while only have a small number of distinct states with different rules. On the downside, it still calls for tracking several different injury types on every model.

Simple softies

A simple model that allows for soft attacks is just a set of penalties by injury type - roll a damage die, that's your penalty. Penalties apply on any roll where they would come into play, GM's discretion. A disadvantage here is that doing it numerically chucks out my proposed sliding-scale system. However, if I allow a single source to apply more than one penalty, it could still work. An alternative is simply to decide the sliding scale isn't all it's cracked up to be, and go for something like a fixed -2 penalty in every case.

Nominal model

For a really simple system, there is no different in the effects of weapons, except that some creatures are more or less vulnerable to particular damage types. Everything does the equivalent of HP damage. However, this doesn't really do anything to make soft attacks feel like they're blinding or whatever, plus I'd have to introduce an HP system.

4E model

A variant inspired by D&D 4E would combine damage and status effects. All attacks would inflict nebulous "damage", but could also impose effects such as blinding, tripping, slowing and so on as normal. These effects could be binary without making attacks an either/or proposition, because of the associated damage; it also allows scope for them to be less devastating than in some systems, because it isn't a strict blind vs. damage proposition. This means that all kinds of attacks could be tried that might impose useful penalties on the target, without trading off against simply ending the fight faster.

Obvious downside: need to add an HP system.

Skills and stats model

Hey, look who's back!

One of the advantages of this model, which I played about with initially and then set aside, is that having a small number of stats supporting a large number of skills offers a handy way to model damage.

  • If stats provide the initial value for skills rather than a bonus as such, you can escape death spirals while using erosive damage.
  • A small number of stats can have damage tracked relatively easily, while remaining linked to specific skills.
  • Eliminating any stat can suddenly prevent use of all relevant skills, creating distinctive effects for various injury types. These can apply on top of status effects, such as 'blinding'.
  • This could actually allow all damage to work in a similar way: a solid hit imposes a penalty (which might vary with the weapon, allowing a bit of complexity) while also eroding a stat. When the stat reaches zero, all linked skills are blocked. Because attacks deal damage, and hard damage works the same as soft damage, penalties can be relatively low-key without being worthless.

An obvious problem is ensuring that skills can be logically tied to some kind of stat, which isn't that easy. A second issue is that as stats tend to be relatively small, finding a balance between armour, damage dice and stat level is tricky; broadly speaking, a system allowing bigger numbers allows more room, which would suggest the d20 model won't cut it.

Needs yet more consideration, methinks. This is actually really hard.

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