DC Without a Tire Fire

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019

In our D&D hack, there are no specific skills, no skill points to distribute, and so on. To attempt to use “skills”, players instead roll Attribute checks based on the most logical Attribute involved in what their character is attempting, and receive a bonus to that roll if their Profession or Background applies and/or if they have the appropriate tools or toolkit for the job.

In most games, the success of such skill checks is based on a sliding scale of difficulty–represented by a difficulty class (DC)–that attempts to account for all sorts of various calculated factors. I’ve found setting the difficulty for skill checks in this way, and doing so with consistent fairness, can sometimes be challenging and can simply bog-down play. This was something I felt needed to be simplified, and as such ruled that any difficult task a character attempts requires the a player’s modified roll to reach or exceed a result of 12. So when a player asks what they need to roll when attempting a skill-related task, the response is easy: 12. To the point they no longer need to ask: they already know what succeeds.

There are a few caveats here: some very few things can change the base DC. The most common, if they are attempting to do something difficult, is if a character has uninterrupted time and has the proper tools and is in a conducive environment; in this case, the DC drops by one “category.” Most times this means the DC drops from 12 to “automatic”, so the character doesn’t even need to roll.

For example, treating a life-threatening wound in the midst of combat requires a Healer to make a skill check to successfully perform first aid, but if they aren’t under the pressure of melee or some kind of clock and have a full surgery and a complete set of surgical tools, they simply succeed.

Keep in mind, skill checks are only for when a character is attempting something difficult, or something easy that has become difficult due to circumstances. When a task is simple or easy or common, a roll is never required.

However, sometimes extenuating circumstances can make a difficult situation even worse. This raises the DC of a check to 15 or more. Extenuating circumstances are abnormal or extreme conditions under which a character is attempting an already difficult task, and which haven’t already been represented by a penalty the character carries (such those from a serious wound or exhaustion). Extenuating conditions rarely come into play and are almost always established solely by the surrounding fiction. I save them for truly extreme situations.

Note that having no applicable Background or Profession, or an incomplete set of or no Tools at all, are not extenuating circumstances, as these are already represented by the character not adding their Proficiency or Tool modifiers to the roll, and so can not change the base DC. The same is true with any extreme environmental conditions penalizing the character, or with the character being rushed or not in an ideal location, as these are also the usual basis for requiring a check (ie: if it weren’t a difficult circumstance, there would be no need for a roll).

Clocks can be a good indicator to bump DC up in some circumstances, when you want to extend a problem to add tension, rather than just apply consequences for failure: “You’ve filled the ‘Alarm’ clock, so the entire enemy camp is now alerted to your presence and searching for you. Any further sneak checks are going to be at DC 15.” Or “You’ve filled your ‘Poisoned’ clock, so though your condition is momentarily stabilized, now the healer is working against a DC of 15 to keep you alive. Your companions need to find and return with those herbs soon.”

Finally, sometimes players want their characters to attempt things that seem nearly impossible, or that ride against the grain of the fiction (“I want my dwarf to flap his wings and fly!”). The answer can often be simply “that’s not possible”. But if there is even a slim chance of success–since we are talking about heroic fiction–I might set the DC of such a task to 20 instead, and the players can decide if the attempt is worth the effort (but you still can’t fly by flapping your arms). Notably, I have only set a DC this high once during the last two years of gaming.

Importantly, failed skill checks should not be allowed re-rolls to “re-attempt” a desired action. If they fail, that avenue of approach to the problem is closed to the characters until or unless the circumstances change significantly. The same goes for tasks that require multiple successful rolls to determine an outcome–the series of rolls may not be attempted a second time once the outcome has been determined.

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