RPGs have grown quite a bit since their invention, but we still haven't really explored much of what can be done with this artform. One of the things that do not get really discussed much or very productively is style of gameplay, and a large part of this I feel is the lack of a structure to really describe gameplay is a useful way. I also feel that RPGs are an artform and deserve the same kind of scientific and logical analysis that other artforms benefit from.
Some of you may immediately think that this is pointless or just plain dumb. However, having had bad experiences with people who seemed to think I must be either a noob or a complete idiot simply because I didn't know what their expectations were, which they saw as the "obvious" and only way to truly play. Of course their expectations would only be reasonable for a certain kind of gameplay but not for any other kinds of gameplay. This could have been easily avoided if only there was a way to say they were playing X style, but there isn't really any way to say that right now, not in a way that is useful. I desire to fix that.
Often players boil down things to a scale of combat vs intrigue. This does not even rate as an over-simplication. It is not even a good place to start on the journey of exploring the range of gameplay styles.
So I am going to start from scratch. This is of course a rough sketch of things that will need to be refined over the years of discussion and analysis.
Before we get to that though, there is something that needs to be understood, and that is that people can have different directions of thinking (for lack of better term). Basically, when given a bunch of information, people gain an understanding of all the information by analyzing small pieces, and each piece that is understood builds a framework that affects how one understands following pieces of information. Information is generally prioritized differently by different people. Of course, this is all done subconsciously and as we get information. This is also why people notice things when watching a moving or reading a book a second or even third time, that they missed the first time.
The best example I can think of is type of audience. One type of audience understands characters (in the sense of them as people, their emotions and social relations) first, then they build their understanding of events on top of their understanding of character (and thus see how the characters emotionally relate to events), and then lastly build an understanding of the world state surrounding these events.
The second audience type understands the world state first (where everything is, the rules of the world, how things work, what can and can not be done, etc), from which they then build an understanding of events (and thus see how the events can happen and what likely outcomes are possible), and then lastly they come to understand characters.
(Though really, it more like a 5 step process, understanding characters, understanding how characters emotionally connect with and respond to and handle events, understanding events, understanding how events are shaped by world state and world rules, understanding how the world works)
Stories are of course driven by drama, and drama comes from the characters. We care about a story when we emotionally connect with the characters and care about what happens to them which generally comes from us emotionally connecting with characters which in turn comes from us understanding the characters.
This leads to the first audience type, the drama-only crowd. These audience members see the drama really easy and are thus unimpeded by inconsistencies in the workings of the world, and in some cases actually like when the world has paradoxes as that increases the awe and amazingness (this comes naturally from the fact that awe and wonder comes from things being not understood. See Brandon Snaderson's laws of magic which really apply to far more than just magic. Basically, the ability for a story to satisfactorily resolve a problem depends on the audience's understanding of how the problem was solved. If you solve a problem with magic, then that magic must be understood. However, understanding something drains all the wonder and awe from that thing. Getting wonder and awe therefore must be something ill-understood yet not used to directly solve problems.).
The second type of audience however, are the details and drama crowd. They need the world to make sense and not have paradoxes because their understanding of the world is the start from which they come to understand the characters and thus the drama, and when the world is inconsistent and full of paradoxes, they never get to really build a good understanding of the world and that hinders their ability to enjoy the story because each paradox breaks the story's immersion, because on a fundamental level the audience member goes "what? That contradicts X from earlier. What is going on?" and thus such a person must actually work at and intentionally try to set aside such issues to keep on watching or reading.
The drama-only crowd rarely has this problem because they do not need an understanding of the world to get the drama. When you see a story where someone does something impossible because they suddenly felt more emotional, the drama crowd eats it up because it is dramatic and they understand the emotions behind it and connect with the character from that extra emotional feeling. The details+drama crowd however has a problem with it because they know the character can't win that that way and is eagerly awaiting the character to find some sneaky way around that obstacle only to have the obstacle suddenly not matter and then they are left wondering why it worked. (I recently tried a new mobile game and a cutscene had this very problem, in which a character tried only to shoot someone but their bullets stopped matrix-style, then after a bit of talk of how useful that power is, they then just shot that person and killed them 20 seconds after demonstrating that they couldn't shoot them. No explanation given here, and it just leaves one wondering how you can shoot what can't can not be shot. Note to prospective GMs and writers, do not do this.)
You could basically say that drama folks understand that the hero felt X and thus did Y, while the details folks understand that the hero did Y and thus must have felt X.
Why is this important? (aside from the fact that knowing one's audience helps a GM/writer make their game more compelling and awesome) Because there is a similar difference splitting gameplay styles into two groups, though with the gameplay styles it is less an innate issue than an issue of how one is introduced to, and think about, what it means to play RPGs. I consider myself lucky as I was introduced to extremes in many directions from the very beginning, particularly in this regard in which my first two game were complete opposites.
This distinction in gameplay style groups I reference, I call the milieu/mechanics split. This split comes from thinking of things in terms of form and function and whether or not there is a mismatch between them.
In a video game, especially older ones, form and function were basically unrelated. For example, in Balduer's Gate, when you encounter a table, it looks like a table, it is called a table, but functionally, it is nothing but a low wall. You can't break the leg off to make a torch or improvised mace, you can't burn it, you can't flip it over for cover, you can't shove it against a door to block it closed, you can't place over a pressure plate to avoid stepping on the pressure plate. Basically, in Balduer's Gate, a player does not think of a table like a table, they think of it as a low wall that is called a table.
Strategy, tactics, and problem-solving all come from our understanding of an object's functional behavior, not it's form. Form really only matters in recognition and communication. When an object's functional behavior is different from the real world equivalent, then players obviously think differently about it when solving problems or forming tactics. A complication arises from this as people are good at recognizing patterns, and when a pattern is recognized in the functioning of all, or at least most, objects in a an environment, then a new object will often be expected to match that pattern, and thinking in terms of the limitations and possibilities of those patterns becomes habit. This is why most video gamers can see a bar with strangely placed icons on the top or bottom of a screen and immediately understand that it is a compass with waypoints marking the direction to things that are likely to be points of interest or quest objectives, except red ones which will be enemies. Players of video games understand this because it is a pattern learned and perpetuated among games which leads them to expect that, even in a new otherwise unfamiliar game.
A tabletop RPG does not require such a difference between form and function. In fact, the biggest strength of tabletop RPGs is that they can have the form and function of objects match with, and be as realistic as, such objects in the real world, something that computers still can't do very well. But many players who have built up habits of thinking about the game in a similar fashion to videogames, will continue to think of object's functionality differently, even when enemies do stuff that breaks those expectations (because it is very common for enemies to do things that players can't) so players that think this way rarely get broken out of those habits that shape their tactics and problem-solving, even when playing with players of the other way of thinking.
Thus you get players who think about objects like a videogamer (mechanics type), and players who think about objects like real world objects (milieu type).
This applies to abilities and character capabilities as well. Looking at 3.x spells and abilities, sometimes you'll notice strange or arbitrary restrictions even ones that make no sense. These come from having made a spell/ability that was supposed to allow an effect but for which thinking of it like it is real results in exploits or tactics that ended up being overpowered but which would be too simple to really claim it has a high powered effect. Using prestidigitation to create a temporary baseball to play catch with a couple street urchins for example, is reasonable and simple for a cantrip, but once you start throwing that ball into people's faces when they try to cast a spell to interrupt their spell, suddenly it seems too much for a cantrip. This issue is nearly impossible to resolve reasonably, requiring to either accept simple and cheap things to be used creatively and to an effect on par with much greater powers or to limit things in artificial and arbitrary ways.
Interestingly, I have encountered players who can play freeform (playing without any game mechanics at all) in the milieu way and yet the moment you pull out a rulebook, they go straight into the mechanics way of thinking. (there are more than a few who say that mechanics should be played in the mechanics way, but that is oh so very incorrect. Rules can be played from either perspective and indeed Gygax himself called it playing the game vs playing the rules, but that is not the topic at hand. I may write an article about that later)
Now that the big split is handled, things can be broken down into a two axis spectrum.
One axis is ordered vs open-ended structure, and the other axis is setting vs story.
A true sandbox game is the extreme of open-ended and setting. Basically a world is presented and players simply interact with that world as they desire, whether it be to take on a quest or to just run around doing stupid stuff, like breaking the world's economy or getting rid of all the world's goats. Those who want to be free to go off and do their own thing or to simply explore a world rather than a specific story, want this kind of game.
Then you have the cinematic game, the extreme of structure and story. This style of game mimics pretty closely a video game on paper. The story is a mostly preset story that players will be railroaded along. Players certainly get to influence the story, but the story will in general follow a predetermined path. This is what most game modules and adventure paths are for. In some cases, GMs will even explicitly have "cut-scenes" where the player's control is removed entirely for a bit of story narration before giving the players back control to let choose how to respond. Those who want to play the encounters and such but want the general gist of the story told to them, or to have a clear path to follow, want this kind of game.
Next is the pure dungeon crawl, structure and setting. This is the style of game where you have a "dungeon," or more accurately, any kind space where players choose where to go next, and along the way they have encounters, but with little or no story main story and what story their is takes a back seat to the action. This game is about the more game-like aspects, like exploring, puzzle-solving, fighting, loot, etc. This is also the style where the difference between milieu and mechanics players is the most clear. The so-called "old school" dungeon crawls were milieu type players in this style, that is why they kept 10' poles, string, and other items modern players ignore, because mechanics type players go "a trap! I have the anti-trap skill!" while milieu type players go "a pressure plate! Probably a trap. Isn't there a bench in that last room we can put over the pressure plate?" This style is the one where the milieu vs mechanics distinction is so vast that it feels like two unrelated games even when using the exact same rulebook.
Lastly, open-ended story. There are two different ways to approach this extreme. One way is that of a storytelling game, where the players are cooperatively crafting a story, with the players having a great deal of influence on the world and setting and often make choices based on what would be most interesting for the story rather than the character (in some cases there may not even be a GM at all, and many rule systems built specifically for this tend towards mechanics about narrative controls rather than mechanics about what a character can do). The other way is what I call "pure roleplay," in which players have the highet amount of freedom in making choices as their characters but still have no influence on the world or setting beyond the actions of their characters, and in which the whole point is to explore the world and story almost as though the story is happening to the players via their characters. This is the style for those who want to try being [insert protagonist here] but doing it better, and without doing all the stupid things we find ourselves yelling at the book/movie about when we know the character is about to do something dumb. The two different styles at this extreme of the spectrum seem to stem from whether the players are thinking from the character's perspective, or from a meta perspective about the character, this meta-milieu or in-milieu thinking can be seen as a minor influence elsewhere on the spectrum, but at this extreme is where it really divides things to a significant degree.
So in recap, we have milieu vs mechanics divide, a two axis spectrum, and the meta vs in-character divide. I didn't put the two divides as spectrums because they are not really spectrums as they are less about preference and more about how a player thinks, the direction they think in and nearly everyone falls pretty clearly into one side or the other.
None of these styles are the single best way to play. The proper way of playing can be argued to be what the designers intended and expected as they wrote the game, but that doesn't invalidate playing a style contrary to the rule system's design.
I present this as a way to talk about, explore, and think about different ways of playing and hopefully help folks discuss what kind of game they are looking to play or run. Because it is much easier to say "I'm running a milieu type dungeoncrawl with moderate lethality" and have everyone looking to play realize that there will be minimal overarching story and that they'll need to dig out 10' poles rather than the anti-every-single-trap skill.
So what do you folks think? Any major distinctions in style you think I missed? Anything that you think can be explained better?
In theory, session 0 should be enough, but that is theory. Sure it works when folks already have similar ideas, but 3 things.
First, having the proper language and terminology greatly helps and shortens communications. Also, this allows making a simple statement to weed out who will even want to go to session 0. Session 0 assumes people there will play, rather than determining who is going to play.
Second, there are some expectations that are so much a part of someone's worldview, they don't even realize the assumptions they make because of it. This has been a problem before. There are players out therewho think it is an arcane caster's job to identify potions and who think anyone that doesn't understand that is a complete idiot or unfamiliar with the concept of rpgs, which is obviously rollplaying, and for whom there is no real connection between their character sheet and their character. I asked what the expectations were because they asked a specific role to be filled and I wanted to make sure I filled it. It never occured to them that I might have never played a caster that needed to identify potions before, and so my sorcerer didn't like potions as she saw them as inferior, and thus couldn't identify them. They really had a problem with after they found out. Of course, they also forgot to tell me that anything tactical was handled out of character and skipped any "superfluous" roleplay that might get in the way of moving on to the next encounter. I've played many styles and this was so far out there, I'm still shocked that people actually play that way, and yet for them, ot was so normal they didn't even consider that they might need to mention it.
Thirdly, it makes it a lot easier to contemplate and understand the various styles and thus easier to look at them as different movie genres, something to try to see if the different styles can also be enjoyed rather than sticking to just one style without trying much of the full spectrum of possibilities.
And well, Fourth, the additional styles being explicit hopefully puts a bulwark against the ever increasing single-mindedness of the major elements of the community shrinking down to a very few and very narrow styles. At least on the part of what one sees publicly. The last few milieu players I saw were a small at home group.
To make an analogy, it is like hollywood claiming that only superhero movies are movies. Other genres are just not recognized or in rare cases a b rated indy film might show up in a different genre but are getting harder to find.
To me, this is a problem. I'm sure most of the people here would consider it a problem if hollywood and other aaa movies wee only ever superhero films. Movies as an artform, and just as simple entertainment, are capable of so much more.
When I got into rpgs, every group was vastly different. But for the last decade or so, it has felt like everything has become standardized.
Roleplay is an artform, the gm is the author, the players are the audience. Seeing it all so heavily reduced is in my opinion the worst thing to happen to the industry.
The first step in expanding the scope of rp is making the vast spectrum of possibilities easier and more clear to discuss.
There are reasons I hate 5e and pf2, but who could understand why but those who understand the difference between, as Gygax put it, playing the rules vs playing the game. I have yet to have someone explain that difference except for the guy who writes The Alexandrian, no one else. I've had many who claim to understand, but they never demonstrate understanding nor even describe the difference.
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I played 5e and the pf2 playtest, and watched a bit of play with the final pf2 rules. That said, my dislike of them is more structural then details. They kept the things I dislike about 3.x but got rid of a great deal of what I liked about 3.x (much of which was intact in pf1).It is hard to explain, but let me try.
3.x has many things I actually do not like (like classes), but on a more fundamental level it has one thing that is hard to find and does it much better than anything else (though gurps is probably the second best of what I'm familiar with), especially modern games. That thing is it's rules association, both individually and as a general whole. If you are not sure what it means for mechanics to be associated, read this article by the Alexandrian:http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/17231/roleplaying-games/dissociated-mec hanics-a-brief-primer though he references mostly decision-making, I'm going beyond that to the link between numbers and the world milieu.
In essence, 3.x provides a framework which is a bit like having a grid laid down to more easily draw straight lines and keep things in the desired proportions. This grid matters not to the final image, but makes it easier to create that final image. Of course, as rpgs are primarily about communication, the grid makes it easier because you can use the grid for reference (imagine talking someone through putting a puzzle together. Being able to say "that piece goes in the top left of grid space D7" makes it a lot easier.).
5e/pf2 do not provide this grid, because in those games, the mechanics are about playing through encounters rather than communicating the world, communicating the world is left entirely to the GM to figure out on their own with minimal aid. They are in essence, focused on something entirely different from 3.x.
To quote Alexandrian,
In a roleplaying game, even if you're fighting, the reasons why you're fighting are frequently important.
It's often the abilities that a creature has outside of combat which create the scenario. And not just the scenario which leads to combat with that particular creature, but scenarios which can lead to many different and interesting combats. Noonan, for example, dismisses the importance of detect thoughts allowing a demon to magically penetrate the minds of its minions. But it's that very ability which may explain why the demon has all of these minions for the PCs to fight; which explains why the demon is able to blackmail the city councillor that the PCs are trying to help; and which allows the demon to turn the PCs' closest friend into a traitor.
With 3.x, things are in the mechanics for reasons other than use during an encounter. These types of things are the first to be eliminated when trying to simplify combat.
5e and pf2 make combat faster, smoother, and in some cases more interesting, but as those are not and never have been my goal in using a system, those things really don't matter much to me.
Another example, in 3.x, Einstein was, at best, a lvl 5 character. To be able to concretely say that comes from the high level of association between the rules and the milieu. I can't really tell you what Einstein would be in 5e nor pf2. Heck, certain members of Paizo stay away from mechanically defining anything beyond the players and monsters because to them it would interfere with the GM's creativity, and indeed I have met GMs who liked getting away from 3.x for this very reason. They don't like having anything defined because to them, it suddenly feels they are handcuffed. To continue the grid analogy, some people either can't turn off grid-snap (when placing something, it snaps itself to exactly fit the grid), or hate trying to turn off grid snap, thus a grid feels more like shackles to them. To me, I have no problems turning off grid snap and using the grid purely as reference, and is exactly what I want. Others are fine with the grid snap and enjoy it.
For me, that grid is the only reason I bother with mechanics at all, without that, freeform is closer to what I want than any system can possibly be, therefore, any system that doesn't have and support such a high level of association is not what I want from the system.
Also note how I say system rather than game. That is because to me, the game is the roleplay, the system is an aid to the game, not the game itself.
For other styles, such as dungeoncrawls, the system is the game, and attaining and using system mastery is usually one of the goals.
The Alexandrian has a bunch of awesome articles, all of which are worth the read but a few in particular are good additional reading to understanding my preferred playstyle.
I linked his old creations should you desire to poke around, but the ones relevant to my preferred style and what I tried to describe in this post are: Calibrating your expectations, Revisiting encounter design, Dissociated mechanics (linked above as well), and Rules vs rulings.
I do want to be clear here, the other styles are just as valid, but they play out differently, they feel different in play, and they have different "mindsets" involved in enjoying them. The key thing here though is that the difference between the styles is not something that can be found in the mechanics, it is something else entirely.
I'm not really sure where to put this example, but it may help.
In 3.x, the numbers have objective intrinsic meaning, regardless of the lvl of the characters interacting with the objects those numbers are representing.
For example, in 3.x, a lock having a DC of 30 means that only a master locksmith can pick it, or create it, and a lvl 40 is a unique masterpiece lock made by the Einstein of locksmiths. Doesn't matter what was rolled by the player trying to pick it. In 5e/pf2, no such statement can be made. What makes something truly in the realm of masters is rather fluid (especially in Golarion, in which superhuman people are commonplace[lvl 6+ is superhuman in pf1, and since pf1 has clearly shown that lvl6+ is not hard to find in Golarion, the same obviously continues in pf2, it is just harder to tell the difference now]).
Heck, in some crpgs these days, a falling apart rusty lock can have such a high DC that a lvl 1 character can't possibly break/pick it, but it will have that DC because the players are high lvl when they encounter it.
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Your last example about the lock is explicitly the case in P2e as well. Look at the Simple DCs: a Master lock has a DC of 30, and Legendary one has a DC of 40, exactly like your 3.x example.
Even if you go to level-based DCs, the DC is based on the level of the locksmith who created the lock, not of the PC trying to pick it.
You can also use the level-based DCs for obstacles instead of assigning a simple DC. For example, you might determine that a wall in a high-level dungeon was constructed of smooth metal and is hard to climb. You could simply say only someone with master proficiency could climb it, and use the simple DC of 30. Or you might decide that the 15th-level villain who created the dungeon crafted the wall, and use the 15th-level DC of 34. Either approach is reasonable!
In neither case does the level of the PC who encounters the lock come into play, so I'm not sure what you're trying to say.
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Skills are the easiest place to see what I'm trying to say, but also the place where association is strongest, and thus likely to be the last place any association would be removed from (hence it being my "extreme" example from crpgs).
I'm not claiming the newer games have lost all association, only that they are significantly less associated and have a more limited scope (which impacts the usefulness of any association they retain).
Apart from what Joana said, numbers in 3.x very quickly lose any intrinsic meaning.
The game tells you that DC 35 is for climbing a slippery overhang or ceiling with handholds only. It tells you that a perfectly smooth, flat vertical (or inverted) surface cannot be climbed.
Then along comes a high level PC with +40 to Climb - easily achievable by stacking bonuses and modifiers. Now, what can they do with their average roll of 50? Nothing beyond what DC 35 can. Even if with some short-term buff, their roll would be 60, they still can't achieve anything beyond what that one tiny little table in the rulebook tells you.
This comes from the fact that in 3.X, there's the default assumption that non-magical means can only achieve peak ordinary real-world human capabilities. Anything beyond that requires magic. The designers likely assumed that DC 35 is a number that's very hard to reach for a PC.
Except it isn't. A competently built PC will hit these numbers many times over. Apart from a few skills that scale (and even then, they scale badly), most skills feature a hopelessly naive table with DCs for what you can achieve. But you're beyond and past this table many times over and yet, you can't achieve anything that would amount to spider climb because of designers.
A lot of printed adventures discard this right off the bat, providing arbitrary DCs that have no grounds in the core rulebook yet exist only so that the skill check could be a challenge to PCs at that level.
The numbers game in 3.x falls apart so quickly that it isn't even funny. Both 5e and PF2 handle this problem differently but largely avoid the "you can only jump this high even if your skill check is 70, thank you for investing so much in this skill, but it's useless beyond 35" problem which makes numbers 3.x have so little intrinsic meaning beyond early levels that you risk people getting frustrated with how little can they achieve.
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IIRC, Glenn Blacow was writing about this sort of thing forty years ago (four-way split), and the simulationist/narrativist/gamist breakdown is from before the turn of the century. That is, people have been discussing this for quite some time. I recommend that the OP check out the previous work and consider whether (and how) their commentary differs from it.
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Gorbacz, this is heavily affected by what is mentioned in the Calibrating your expectations essay. Basically, anyone over level 5 is superhuman, and you are very unlikely to have met even a level 4 person in the real world.
That said, the DCs for things real world people can achieve is just the foundation. From this foundation you can judge what it should be like for a demigod of such skill that they can do things no human can.
How about a natural rock face and the need to jump from one wall section to the next? That not only requires a successful jump check but also a successful climb check to catch the other side with a DC of 45, or 50 when slippery and wet. Boom, a DC 50 climb check required straight from the book with perfectly ordinary circumstances.
A perfectly smooth and featureless wall shouldn't be climbable by a person, demigod or not, without something beyond mere skill. You need to be able to grip a wall to climb it regardless of skill.
I also think you've forgotten all the other things that can affect the check. Try that slippery overhang in the middle of a hurricane with a torrent of water and hail coming down and with high speed winds and very high speed gusts. Do you really thing that the DC is going to remain a mere DC 35? Heck no. The water and hail and wind are all going to raise the DC significantly, and every gust of extra high speed wind will require a check to not be blown off. The DCs in this case are going be somewhere around 50 or so. Add in enemies trying to knock them off, or them trying to rush for extra increases to the DC. Or try catching your self on a brick wall for a DC 45, or catch another falling character while you are on that slippery overhang in a hurricane for an extra +10 to the DC.
The basic DCs given in the book are not the sum total of what DCs you should be facing.
Climbing a brick wall in the middle of a hurricane and on a short deadline with enemies below trying to shoot you down. Your +40 climb bonus suddenly faces a chance of failure. Using bonuses and magic is exactly what should be done to make it "easy" for a character and being "easy," or even certain, is precisely because of how superhuman their skill is.
Personally, I can think of cases where I'd make walls with a higher DC based on these basic foundations. For example, a wall with a pattern on it of ledges only 1/16 inch deep and at intervals that'd be a stretch to reach from one to the next would have a base DC of 40 or even 45. The character would basically be climbing via their fingernails.
Additionally, nothing limits your max jump height.
The wording about vertical reach (in 3.5) is not the best and therefore confusing, but read it carefully and you'll note it is about how high you can reach without jumping and is thus simply the base height upon which your jump height builds from, so if you can reach 8' without jumping than a jump check to reach a 10' ledge would only need you to jump 2' for a DC of 8. Though PF1 doesn't mention base height for some reason.
3.x and PF1 mention your max movement, but neither states that you can't make a jump over a longer distance, only that you can't move more than your maximum speed (not your base speed) in a round. As a jump check is part of movement, if you are running, you have a maximum speed of 4x your base speed, and even just a hustle of 2x your base speed vastly increases your max speed for the round (up to 60' for a standard human). An all out run for a standard human gives a 120' maximum movement for the round, requiring a Jump check of over 120 to exceed this distance. If you managed that somehow, the GM is not limited to restraining you from jumping a greater distance, only that you can't move further in that round, in which case the obvious course of action is that the following round is when you'd land, completing the jump using some of the 2nd round's movement.
So, I am not at all seeing how these numbers fall apart. Not at all. None of my examples here require artificial inflation of DCs.
I do not see any need to make every check a challenge for whatever level the PCs are at. To me, that alone is contrary to the association of the rules to the world. Besides, it is not required, because it would then be a challenge to a PC who kept that skill maxed out, but what about characters who focused elsewhere? Not every PC is going to be an awesome acrobat, and putting in an obstacle with DCs based on the presumed PC's level is only to split the party into those who are awesome acrobats and those who are not.
This split should only happen when the entire intent is built around having the party split up (such as if one PC is supposed to get somewhere difficult to open the way for everyone else), in which case, a character being superhuman at a skill when everyone else is not is exactly why they are doing something, in which case, there are plenty of ways to make it challenging without artificially inflating DCs. As I clearly pointed out in the climb examples above.
If the party is not splitting up, or perhaps lacks a superhuman at a particular skill, then any jump checks should obviously not be extreme anyway, since untrained PCs are going to find perfectly ordinary DCs a challenge.
Edit: I additionally think that changing DCs to be challenging is bad because it undermines the feeling of being superhuman and also undermines the entire point of leveling. If you need a roll of 10+ regardless of your level, then why have levels? But the former is the more significant in my opinion, if you are a superhuman demigod of jumping, a 20' gap should not be challenging just because the module author wants an obstacle. If the module author wants a jump to challenge the party's superhuman acrobat, then they should make it a jump that every player can easily see is a ridiculous jump that only superhuman being could jump, in which case, the superhuman player then gets to feel like a demigod when they actually succeed.
But if a jump of 20' is challenging no matter your level, then being high level will never feel like a demigod, because doing demigod things will never happen, because ordinary things will always get inflated to challenge what should be a superhuman, making those superhumans nothing more than ordinary humans.