Do NOT print a list of appropriate DC's by level


Prerelease Discussion


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So with the automatic +level scaling of skills, it would be really tempting, helpful and intuitive to provide the GM with a list of DCs that would be appropriate for each character based on their level.

DON'T DO THIS!!!!!

This was one of the most misunderstood rules elements of D&D 4th ed. It made GMs create arbitrary DCs that had no foundation in the in-game reality. It was simply "you have to be at this level for this DC so you're getting this DC divorced from whatever it is you are actually doing."

If you want to be helpful, give the GM a list of challenges that would be appropriate by level. So instead of:
Level 1 = DC 10
Level 2 = DC 12
Level 3 = DC 13
Level 4 = DC 15
etc, etc.

Have something like:
Level 1 = Jump across a 5 foot gap, recall basic information on monsters, know a plane's name.
Level 2 = Jump across a 6 foot gap
Level 3 = Jump aross a 7 foot gap
Level 4 = Jump across a 9 foot gap
Level 5 = Jump across a 10 foot gap, recall habitat for common monsters, know a location in a plane
etc, etc, etc.

You then define what the DC's for the above checks are in another place.

This will stop people from decrying that the DC's are arbitrary, it will help GMs consider whether the challenge they are giving their party is likely to be overcome.

It might seem stupid and annoying to force a GM to do those extra steps. But without it you're going to get cries of "DCs don't meet the ingame reality and are just arbitrary because that's what the math of the game demands!" and it will actually cause GM's to be worse rather than better (I've seen all this in another game. Yes, this is what actually happened).


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Aye, any list of DCs should be by task with no regard for the level of the character attempting it


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I would actually extend the same thoughts to how CR is presented. Phrasing an encounter that eats up 20% of a party's resources (or whatever) as an "appropriate" encounter leads to assumptions of a pretty tight band of CRs that a party of any level faces. Straightforwardly giving estimates of (depending on how the math works out) what kind of attrition or TPK potential different encounters are likely to represent, with advice about pacing and also some nice random encounter tables that explicitly don't care about fair fights would be ideal to my mind.

Paizo Employee Designer

10 people marked this as a favorite.
John Lynch 106 wrote:

So with the automatic +level scaling of skills, it would be really tempting, helpful and intuitive to provide the GM with a list of DCs that would be appropriate for each character based on their level.

DON'T DO THIS!!!!!

This was one of the most misunderstood rules elements of D&D 4th ed. It made GMs create arbitrary DCs that had no foundation in the in-game reality. It was simply "you have to be at this level for this DC so you're getting this DC divorced from whatever it is you are actually doing."

If you want to be helpful, give the GM a list of challenges that would be appropriate by level. So instead of:
Level 1 = DC 10
Level 2 = DC 12
Level 3 = DC 13
Level 4 = DC 15
etc, etc.

Have something like:
Level 1 = Jump across a 5 foot gap, recall basic information on monsters, know a plane's name.
Level 2 = Jump across a 6 foot gap
Level 3 = Jump aross a 7 foot gap
Level 4 = Jump across a 9 foot gap
Level 5 = Jump across a 10 foot gap, recall habitat for common monsters, know a location in a plane
etc, etc, etc.

You then define what the DC's for the above checks are in another place.

This will stop people from decrying that the DC's are arbitrary, it will help GMs consider whether the challenge they are giving their party is likely to be overcome.

It might seem stupid and annoying to force a GM to do those extra steps. But without it you're going to get cries of "DCs don't meet the ingame reality and are just arbitrary because that's what the math of the game demands!" and it will actually cause GM's to be worse rather than better (I've seen all this in another game. Yes, this is what actually happened).

We basically have a similar idea to what you suggest here, where we give examples of what tasks might be by level and elsewhere some suggested DCs for tasks of those levels (with several gradations within each level, to help GMs decide), but we go a step farther and have a significant discussion about the fact that you shouldn't scale things by level arbitrarily; a simple oak tree is a simple oak tree.


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Mark Seifter wrote:
We basically have a similar idea to what you suggest here, where we give examples of what tasks might be by level and elsewhere some suggested DCs for tasks of those levels (with several gradations within each level, to help GMs decide), but we go a step farther and have a significant discussion about the fact that you shouldn't scale...

Really happy to hear that. For me it does seem stupid to have to force the GM to do the extra steps. But without those steps the GM doesn't put sufficient thought into what's happening in the game world.

Paizo Employee Designer

7 people marked this as a favorite.
John Lynch 106 wrote:
Mark Seifter wrote:
We basically have a similar idea to what you suggest here, where we give examples of what tasks might be by level and elsewhere some suggested DCs for tasks of those levels (with several gradations within each level, to help GMs decide), but we go a step farther and have a significant discussion about the fact that you shouldn't scale...
Really happy to hear that. For me it does seem stupid to have to force the GM to do the extra steps. But without those steps the GM doesn't put sufficient thought into what's happening in the game world.

Once the GM has internalized things, it should be possible to just use one chart, but starting out, we'd like them to read the whole discussion first, if that makes sense. I think and hope it should be the best of both worlds here.


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I would hope that these two different types of ways to determine DC are close to each other in the book, as that's always been a problem in finding relevant material in a quick manner


Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I'd be down with this. Say, for instance we could have the skills give us things we could expect to achieve with a certain check, then have the GM section give us what sort of tasks should be used to challenge PCs of a specific level.

Given your example, the skill section would say

Jump a 9ft gap=DC 15

The GM section would say

A 9ft gap is a good chasm to challenge 4th level PCs.

I'll admit, my wording could be way better in those examples, but they get the point across.


I am reminded of how 13th Age does this, as that's another d20 game that took lessons from 4e and it does skill checks very similarly to the proposed PF2 system (and this is why I feel confident that things will be fine). Specifically in 13A all skill checks are made by level + appropriate ability mod + appropriate background (which is a number from 0 to 5). So two people of the same level with the same stats will differ by at most 5 on a given check.

But 13A divides environments (and by extension what challenges they pose) into 3 bins corresponding to the character levels they are most appropriate for: Adventurer, Champion, and Epic. In Pathfinder terms, Thistletop would be an adventurer environment, Jorgenfist would be a champion environment, and Xin-Shalast would be an epic environment. DCs of skill checks are then generated by looking at what tier the obstacle falls in, then considering whether the task at hand is: normal, hard, or ridiculously hard. So a first level character can go to a extremely dangerous and challenging place and might struggle to complete basic tasks (but even high level environments have normal trees and some easy locks). A high level character can go to a place that would be a challenge to lower level adventurers and succeed at basically anything they attempted.

So we have both a DC to crack the vault door for the Dwarf King's hoard (35) and a DC to pick the lock on a kobold's footlocker (15). Any thief with the appropriate lock within arm's reach can attempt either check. In essence for setting the DC for the lock we basically consider "who are the likely thieves we're trying to keep out" (for the kobold- other kobolds, and for the dwarf king- everybody) and "how hard are they trying" (for the kobold - not very, for the dwarf king- extremely.)


Mark Seifter wrote:
We basically have a similar idea to what you suggest here, where we give examples of what tasks might be by level and elsewhere some suggested DCs for tasks of those levels (with several gradations within each level, to help GMs decide), but we go a step farther and have a significant discussion about the fact that you shouldn't scale...

Yeeessss... Climbing an oak tree in normal outside conditions should have a concrete DC, not scaling magically up by 10 (arbitrary number) just because your level is 10 higher. Well, it seems my greatest fear with PF2 is alleviated for good.

----

Edit: P.S. At first glance I thought the OP was bashing "concrete", fixed DCs away. Sorry for being mistaken, as it seems it was exactly the opposite!

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Lucas Yew wrote:
Mark Seifter wrote:
We basically have a similar idea to what you suggest here, where we give examples of what tasks might be by level and elsewhere some suggested DCs for tasks of those levels (with several gradations within each level, to help GMs decide), but we go a step farther and have a significant discussion about the fact that you shouldn't scale...

Yeeessss... Climbing an oak tree in normal outside conditions should have a concrete DC, not scaling magically up by 10 (arbitrary number) just because your level is 10 higher. Well, it seems my greatest fear with PF2 is alleviated for good.

----

Edit: P.S. At first glance I thought the OP was bashing "concrete", fixed DCs away. Sorry for being mistaken, as it seems it was exactly the opposite!

Thankfully no game I know had ever done this, but (as the OP stated) a lot of GMs have mistaken a plain chart of DCs as how the game works. That's why I love the personally voiced sidebars in 13th Age, replacing thoughts behind the rules. It really helps GMs grok the system. I'd hope the eventual PF2 GMG goes do into this. Or blog posts here!

Sovereign Court

I think the idea of setting out a general scale of skill is good; rating people's skill levels as (poor/basic/trained/professional/expert/master/legendary). In PF1 you would for example say that "basic" skill level is like having a skill not trained and no strong ability modifier, so a +0 skill or so. And "trained" would be having a rank in it, the bonus from class skill, and a small ability bonus; about a +5. And "professional" might be someone who took that skill seriously to put in a Skill Focus; he's also got a decent ability score. So our Int 14 level 2 expert (the NPC class) craftsman has a +10 in his craft skill.

Having such a scale matching quantitative skill bonuses to qualitative labels for skill levels allows you start reasoning about typical difficulties.

A task which even a basic skilled person can usually perform (under Take 10 circumstances) might be Easy and therefore DC 10; a Trained person can do this fairly reliably even under stress and the Professional won't fail at all even under stress.

A "normal" task in a skill would actually be challenging for someone who basically doesn't have the skill; DC 15 maybe. Reliable for someone trained under normal circumstances, and the professional can usually pull it off even under stress.

A "hard" task is unlikely to succeed for someone who doesn't have the skill. For someone trained it'll still take multiple attempts. The professional now needs his nice calm environment to remain reliable. DC 20 perhaps.

---

The idea is that instead of having a completely new DC scale for every single task, you can have an archetypal scale from which each skill is designed. This makes ad-hoc DC setting for GMs a lot easier. White Wolf RPGs are a strong example of when this system works well. It does have some other consequences though:


  • The sort of situational DC modifiers for each skill should be on roughly the same scale.
  • The sort of bonuses available to skills should be on the same scale.

These sound like limitations but they're actually a good way of simplifying the game design. Instead of one skill going to +30 while another is difficult to boost to +15, you can just use a single template for "magical skill booster +5" that's available for any skill. You don't have to wait for someone to remember to cater to your particular skill in the Xth sourcebook, or page through a lot of wildly differently priced versions because authors couldn't agree on what such and such a bonus ought to cost. Compare this to how people generally like the abstract "masterwork skill tool".

Having a unified approach to skill DCs also allows designers to design bounds on minimum and maximum skill levels. Right now the number of available bonus types per skill varies dramatically. There's a lot of system mastery involved in getting skill ratings high, which means that some PCs have bonuses that are much higher than the system was designed for. Diplomacy is particularly egregious; it's doable to get such a high Diplomacy bonus that going by dumb RAW, NPCs lose all free will.

Having a clear design plan of skill levels, DC levels and what bonuses should be available, would allow PF2 to avoid that big flaw.

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