I have once again been mulling over options, and I'm inclined to think that trying for a comprehensive system covering different damage types is perhaps not going to work. As I've mentioned before, soft attacks seem to end up as a choice between complexity and swinginess. I'm also a bit concerned that by making soft attacks increasingly granular, you could end up with simply several alternate hit point systems, with players simply choosing the easiest option to down a particular target. So instead I'm going to consider something a bit different.
Yup. What happens if I try coming up with subsystems that work for each major type of effect I'd like to allow? I'm going to look at blinding for starters, but similar things would apply to other forms of attack.
For minions, rather than tracking things, I'm considering having an injury/recovery roll. A single hit from a weapon of any type rolls its normal damage die: on a 1 they shrug it off, on a 5+ the minion is out of the fight (for whatever reason), and on a 2-4 they're wounded but not yet out. In subsequent rounds, they roll a D6 each round and the same applies. Note that this means more powerful weapons have a better chance to eliminate minions right off the bat, but as long as that doesn't happen, the minion isn't more likely to drop out subsequently. It's somewhat more random than tracking methods, but on the plus side it's quick and simple, while still allowing some room for variations in damage. Similarly, minions' armour can reduce the roll (potentially to 1) just as with other characters, and some may have resistances or vulnerabilities to particular attacks, or a better chance of recovering.
As suggested previously, blinding attacks roll a die to see the duration of the effect - depending on the nature of the attack (bright light, drugged syringe, pepper spray) the duration may be is reduced by a particular form of defence, such as armour or flash-reactive visors. Attacks are cumulative, so a target taking 4 and 6 rounds of blinding is blinded for 10 rounds. While blinded, a target rolls two dice for any action that relies on visual input, and takes the worse roll. If the blinded score reaches half the creature's Perception attribute, they roll three dice instead of two. Certain creatures will be able to rely on other senses and so ignore blinding.
This system requires a certain amount of tracking, but on PCs and major NPCs this should be okay as long as the number of attack types is kept in check.
Another downside is that against small groups of powerful creatures, halving rolls is more effective than against large groups of weak creatures. How well does this scale? The number of rounds is likely to increase with level, but creatures' defences may also increase, as will the rolls that are being halved. However, halving a skill of 20 (-10) is much worse than halving a skill of 2 (-1). In contrast, a fixed penalty will be effective against weak creatures, but much less so against larger creatures.
Rather than a fixed penalty, blinding might inflict a penalty equal to the duration of the effect, with the penalty dropping as the effect fades. This makes some intuitive sense, and provides an incentive to keep piling on the flash grenades. Creatures affected for a long time are also automatically largely out of the fight, which may allow them to be taken down easily, or ignored to focus on others. However, this isn't likely to play nicely with cumulative duration, since it's fairly easy to stack up a -20 penalty that way and keep a creature locked down. Instead, a higher penalty can replace a lower penalty. So if a mouse is blinded for 4 rounds, and then takes a hit inflicting 6 rounds of blind, they end up with 6. This may also be less unwieldy and more realistic.
In this system, the severity of blinding varies with the weapon, which means it should scale reasonably well. It also allows protective gear to mitigate the severity of the attack, rather than just its duration. Riffing on that, a creature wearing night-vision goggles that takes a flash grenade might suffer extra rounds of blindness, and so on. A downside, though, is that a low roll makes the attack both brief and ineffective, while a high one makes it long-lasting and effective, which might be too swingy - it'd need testing.
A completely radical system here. The blinding effect inflicts a set penalty, and allocates a particular die to the target. At the end of each turn, the target can roll that die to see if they recover, succeeding on a 1 regardless of die size.
In this system, the weapon type will determine how likely a creature is to recover quickly, but everything is left random. A creature might have abilities like modifying the die size (this could be what visors do), or rolling at the start of its turn instead of the end, to mitigate the effects without negating them.
Obvious disadvantages: you need to track not only that a creature's blinded, but what die size blinded it, although I'm not sure this is worse than tracking a number of blindness points. It also allows only a single bindary "blind" state, and I'm not convinced that variable duration compensates. Finally, this effect is completely unbounded - while it's likely that a D6 weapon will be recovered within 3 rounds, it could quite plausibly persist for ten or more, and has no theoretical limit. This contrasts badly with the other, more predictable options.
Rolling to wound
So far I've eschewed models where you have to roll to effect a target, because I feel like the number of rolls can build up and get unwieldy. However, rolling to wound isn't necessarily any worse than rolling for a damage amount. What if I simply replace one with the other?
Let's say each creature has a given number of "wound" slots, each of which potentially has its own knock-on effects. A successful hit would automatically inflict some penalty (see the various "pinning" ideas I floated) because I don't like binary failure, but not necessarily cause damage. The attacker must roll to wound, perhaps a straight 50/50 roll modified by the weapon and the target's defences. A success gives the target a wound with its knock-on effects. If they run out of wounds, they're out of the fight. Very tough targets might have multiple wounds, weak targets only one. Things like a self-driving military vehicle might have several discrete wounds representing key systems, and perhaps the wound lost is chosen randomly.
Traditionally these sorts of things seem to use Toughness stats and so on, but my take on it is, if someone manages to hit you with a weapon, then your toughness has very little to do with whether it injures you. Now, it's possible that something like an Endurance roll might allow you to overcome effects of a wound on a round-by-round basis - but that's a different matter. The only thing that's going to block injuries entirely is armour. Or whatever other defence seems appropriate.
How does combat even work?
Another part of this equation is working out what other rolls are involved in a combat. Some kind of hit roll is a given (yes, I could scrap it, but only to be contrary). I could make a single success roll that encompasses everything from hitting the target to the amount of damage done. I could have an attack roll, then a dodge roll, then an armour roll, then a damage roll, then a damage soak roll... Somewhere in between seems mostly likely, though I may revisit the "one roll" option.
While ranged combat is usually considered a matter of shooting straight, I think there's a broad preference for the defender's stats to come into play during melee. I could therefore have either the defender's combat skill or their agility modify the chances to hit them, but as I've mentioned I think it has some possibility as a way to balance ranged and melee combat. It also reduces the amount of maths needed on a roll. I suppose I could also stop using a roll-under system and instead just use modifiers, in which case I could roll die+modifier vs. the target's appropriate skill - although as I'm favouring an autosuccess model, that could increase the proportion of unsatisfying combats if not balanced carefully.
Going back for a moment, the Single Success Roll model might be something like: 1d20 + AttackerSkill + weapon modifier - DefenderSkill - armour = damage. So 1d20 + 12 Ballistics + 2 (heavy blaster) - 8 Dodge - 4 armour = 1d20 + 2 damage (however that translates). My main objection here is it's fiddly maths! In practical terms, the player would roll 1d20 + skill + weapon = damage, and the GM would apply damage - defence - armour = result. So it's two separate lots of maths, but it's still something to bear in mind. I'm a bit tempted by this model, though. It's straightforward.
Okay, how about this?
- An attack roll involves a roll under the attacker's skill. The defender may roll to evade if in melee or if they spent an action for evasion on their previous turn. If they fail, they are affected by the attack.
- A wounding model handles most physical attacks, while blinding damage is modelled with a blind die and slowing with a slow die. Restraint by ropes, webs and so on requires a Strength check to escape (with occasional allowance for Houdini stunts).
- A wound requires a roll of 11+ on the d20, with weapon strength as a bonus and armour (or other defence, depending on the weapon) as a penalty. This number should be tweaked so that Monitors have around a 75% chance of wounding an average target.
- An unsuccessful roll leaves the target pinned: they suffer a penalty until they spend an action to recover.
- Monitor-grade characters have 3 wounds, civilians 1, and hulking alien monstrosities 5 or more.
- For example, armour might protect against bullets, while cybernetic implants might protect against chemical or neurological attack.
- In general, a wounded creature suffers a -2 penalty on all rolls, and creature that has lost more than half its Wounds loses one action. This will vary somewhat by creature type and number of Wounds.
- Running out of Wounds leaves a target unconscious or otherwise disabled.
- While only wounding attacks can mechanically eliminate a target, other attacks make a target less dangerous and more vulnerable. A blinded, slowed or restrained creature should be more likely to surrender or otherwise abandon a fight, being less able to defend themselves.
- Weapons may have specific types, which have particular effects on particular targest.
- For example, an electrical weapon may be more effective against robots, and less against the Tree-Maws of Betelgeuse.
- Blinding imposes a -5 penalty on any rolls where vision is significant.
- Slowing reduces Speed by one rank, and imposes a -5 penalty to any rolls where rapid reaction is significant.
- Restraint imposes whatever conditions seem appropriate for the source and nature of the restraints. For example, handcuffs allow movement, but many actions are impossible or treated as blind (if cuffed behind the back); a net probably imposes a penalty on just about all physical actions.
I have in fact picked the Blind Die option, because although I have some hefty misgivings about it, I do think it's at least interesting and worth playing around with. This is not going to be the best system in the world by any stretch of the imagination - but it might do long enough for me to make some progress elsewhere.