Super hard skill DCs (PFS2e & SFS)


Organized Play General Discussion

Dark Archive 4/5 ** Venture-Agent, Finland—Tampere

So while both Societies have over the course of years gotten better about it, I think there is still trend of scenarios having much higher dcs than adventure paths and modules do on average. I don't think its always a bad thing, but there has been lot of variance on how they have been used, and not all of it has been fun experience as GM or player. Because this is gonna be super long post, I'm gonna use spoiler tags to shorten the text.

To be specific of what I think is the mechanical issue, in case of 2e its "DCs higher than level appropriate DC of tier" and in Starfinder its "DCs higher than challenging DC of the tier"

To give Pathfinder 2e example, certain scenario's skill challenges work like this on tier 1-2: "Lore DCs are 13, second lowest is 18, then is 20 and hardest is 23"

On glance that sounds good,:
lore is by 5 lower than the lowest non lore dc... But then you remember that not all characters have lore skills asked for(first time I run it, nobody had them) and that appropriate dcs for level 1 and 2 characters are "15" and "16". (14 is level 0 dc)

Level appropriate dc basically means character has about 40-60 chance of success in skill with highest proficiency rank of level. (so in case of level 1, at best +7 skill bonus, succeeds at roll of 8, at worst +2, succeeds at roll of 13)

Now while DC 18 is level 3 appropriate dc, succeeding at that roll once isn't too bad. But the second thing is that with DC 15 check, character okay in skill has decent chance of succeeding and character great in skill has good chance of critting. 2e skill guidelines for victory point systems assumes players have decent chance of critting on average, while DC 18 means level 1 character can only have crit success on nat 20.

Heck guideline on system directly says "If you think your DCs will be higher overall, when you set the number of points needed, choose a value on the lower end (see Setting your Scale below)." Basically higher the end point, lower the dcs, lower the end point, higher the dcs.

Example research rules has level 7 library include DCs approriate for level 3 when using lore skill, one 21 performance (aka pretty niche skill not everyone has) while majority are DC 23(aka level approriate DC) with couple 25 mixed in and 28 for perception

DCs being overly high would be hard enough, but on top of that the skill challenge that requires 20 points in total and it has timelimit. So for characters to succeed at it, they would need about 4 successes per round until time runs out. Aka everybody in party needs to succeed. If challenge followed normal level DCs, it would mean that characters bad in skill have okay chance of giving party one success points while characters with great skills have good chance of giving 2 points to make up for characters who fail the check. And higher dc also means that if character isn't good in the skill, they have good chance of crit failing and giving negative progress on check(which is bad when timelimit means you mean pretty much perfect amount of successes per round)

What I think is that if lowest non lore skill had been around 13-15 range, second highest around level 2 range and highest on level 3 range, skill challenge would have been fine. You could even still have lore skill by lower by 5 as well, it would really reward parties that have them without making them feel "necessary to complete the challenge".

Starfinder also follows similar math: challenging DC, aka 15 + (1.5 * apl), has about 40-60 chance of success, but since starfinder has skill focus feats and toolkits to give extra chance(and no crit successes by default), specialized character can increase their chance of success. But same way, character with class skill and max stat in rank has bonus of +7 at level 1 and challenging dc is 16, so succeeds on 9. The guidelines note that you can with -10, -5 +5 and +10 modify it in either direction.

Though guideline is bit misleading in that since "challenging" is more or less about 50% for average character, "difficult" means about 25% chance of success <_< like for level 1 with those modifiers, 6 is trivially easy, 11 is pretty easy, 16 is challenging, 21 is hard and 26 is basically pure luck.

Now to the starfinder example,:
instead of skill challenge, I'll pick example from certain tier 5-8 scenario. Let's pick tier 7-8 to simplify, level 7 & 8 challenging dcs are 24 and 25.

Now this scenario has diplomacy encounter with four possible approaches. Characters can either ally with one of two sides, both of them or fail to side with either and players are provided multiple approaches of how to try to solve the problem with differing amount of difficulties. going through all DCs for the tier, they are 20, 23, 28, 29, 30 and 32. Easiest solution requires that two different characters happen to both have deception, intimidation, bluff and diplomacy.

While encounter in question is obviously designed so that the "perfect solution" is incredibly difficult(unless you get lucky with party composition), I think the encounter might still be more difficult than what the writer planned ^^; Hardest possible DC goes over the challenging DC by 7 which uh... Well Challenging DC is in itself, challenging. So going it over by 1 to 5 means its already super hard to succeed, while going over 6 to 10 is basically up to pure luck, you basically have to be skill optimal class to even have chance of succeeding at these levels.

And note: ALL parts of the challenge require succeeding at each DC twice. Yeah, you do get three chances to fail per character you are talking to, but its... Insanely hard. And top of that, character who fails gets -2 penalty on reattempting the check. So uh better hope party is full of envoys.

There are multiple alternate ways I could see how this encounter could be fairer. Either way I think all of them need to remove the "-2 penalty if character fail" because -2 penalty with challenging +dcs is well insanely hard.

But yeah first thoughts I have are either 1) having easier dc be -5 the challenging dc and having challenging dc being the "hard" dc since you still need to succeed in it twice 2) keep the dcs same mostly same, but limit highest one to "challenging +5" and require only one success in it.

Now to clarify what I meant with "its not always bad to have super hard dcs": I think its perfectly fine to have high dcs for extra treasure, secret doors, flavor/lore or secondary success conditions, but I don't think its fun to lock "adventure's story arc's finale" behind it. Like in certain 2e scenario that is about befriending a character and then making decision related to them, if pcs don't get the really hard to get perfect success in influence scene, the character just disappears from scenario and scenario comes across as "bunch of random street fights".

Note that "story arc being complete" is different from "happy ending" here for me. Like in the starfinder example, I think its appropriate situation to have "difficult dc for best result"(even if I think in practice that one was too difficult math wise and skill guideline wise)

Second thing related to that is that well... Its not fun for players or the gm to have skill challenge where players need near perfect success rate or consistently roll 18 on the dice to succeed if they aren't super skill talented(ESPECIALLY if they are talented in skill and still need 19 on dice).

It IS okay to have skill challenge with super high dcs don't get me wrong. But it requires two things in my opinion 1) tiered successes(so that they get something even if they don't get perfect or good results) and 2) it needs to feel optional to do it perfectly. Like yeah maybe you can have venture captains congratulate players for how super awesome job they did, but if ending of the scenario feels like something is missing because characters couldn't make perfection impression on character and they didn't want to reveal the big secret as result, well it just makes story feel less memorable for it.

Dark Archive 4/5 ** Venture-Lieutenant, Finland—Turku

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I think the problem lies in how skill challenges scale.

I ran yesterday an adventure for lvl 1-4 characters. There's a hazard that has DC 18 or DC 20 checks to disable on lvl 1-2, and DC 22 and 24 on lvl 3-4. Our party was 3, 3, 4, 4, consisting of wizard, fighter, witch, champion. Two int based characters with plenty of skills, two frontliners, two characters with healing. Party seemed pretty good and well balanced, and combats proved to be just speed bumps.

But then there was the hazard. the higher DC skill was one that the Fighter had: +4 from stat, +2 from trained, +3 from level, +9. Scaling on the adventure for this party meant +1 to all DC's and stats of the hazard, so DC 25. Hazard starts with inflicting a -1 status penalty to everyone (even on a successful save). Fighter is rolling +8 vs DC 25 on what is essentially one of their strongest skills, needing 17 to succeeed.
Everybody else had one of the lower skills. It wasn't an int skill. Everybody had about +1 from stat, +3/4 from level, +2 from trained, so +6 or +7 vs DC 22, bumped to DC 23 because of scaling, -1 from the hazard to their roll, so +5/6 vs DC 23. Again, 17 to succeed. (except for the effective +5, who rolled a 17, and was told they failed, because they needed to roll 18.)

PROBLEM:
In theory, the difficulty stays the same between lvl 1-2 and lvl 3-4 (DC's rise by 4, you get +2 from levels and +2 from skill increase). In practice however, it only stays the same -for your best skill-. Getting a skill increase and turning expert in one skill should mean you get better at that skill, but using this sort of difficulty scaling, spending a skill increase actually means that you stay as good in that particular skill (You would have succeeded on +12 at lvl 1-2, you spent skill increase at lvl 3, you still succeed at +12 at a similar level appropriate challenge), which means that you are effectively becoming worse in every other skill that you did not boost.

This is effectively the same as if at lvl 3 you were told that you get to choose 1 skill to stay the same, and every other skill takes -2 permanent penalty. I think this is why higher level DC's feel difficult. You aren't seeing [any] rewards for investing into a particular skill - tasks don't become easier just because you became better on the skill, rather, everything else becomes gradually harder and harder while that 1 or 2 skills stays relatively speaking the same.

EDIT: In fairness, I have to state that this hazard is "sort of" optional. There are no treasure bundles tied to it. It is -one- of the conditions for primary and secondary success but you can complete both even without dealing with the hazard.
However, players don't know that. They don't know if there's a reward for beating the hazard - and that's why throwing a challenge that a decent party needs to roll 17+ (twice) to succeed against may feel unfair to the party, even if (as a GM) I can see that it's fair and okay because the party can succeed even if they fail at the hazard.

(Not to mention that the best possible person for this job would have +4 stat, +4 expert, +4 level = +12 on the check, DC 23, succeed on 11+, so 50/50 chance. I don't think "best possible person for the job" should have their success depend on a coinflip.)

Dark Archive 4/5 ** Venture-Agent, Finland—Tampere

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Agreed there on scaling problems, but I think issue is also scenarios not really following on guidelines.

here is my badly articulated attempt to analyse this:
Like I don't know what is hazard level there, but like DC 18 is level 3, 20 is level 5, 22 is level 6 and 24 is level 8.

So on tier 1-2, its level 1/2 character vs level 3 & 5 and on higher its level 3/4 vs level 6 & 8

While more accurate scaling would be 3/4 vs level 5 & 7 scaling instead

Edit: Okay nah I was wrong there about guidelines

I checked hazard disable dc table and noticed that the table thinks that is completely 100% "equivalent" so to speak(its exactly the high dc vs extreme -1, but difference is succeeding at roll of 12 vs 16 in best case scenario unless I'm missing something)

Like I think main take away from me is that hazard dc guideline math seems off.

Edit of Edit: Seems like hazard disable guidelines are based on creature skill guidelines? Which is weird to me because you can't debuff hazards unlike you can with creatures ^^;

3/5 ** Venture-Agent, Massachusetts—Boston Metro

Tommi Ketonen wrote:

I think the problem lies in how skill challenges scale.

I ran yesterday an adventure for lvl 1-4 characters. There's a hazard that has DC 18 or DC 20 checks to disable on lvl 1-2, and DC 22 and 24 on lvl 3-4. Our party was 3, 3, 4, 4, consisting of wizard, fighter, witch, champion. Two int based characters with plenty of skills, two frontliners, two characters with healing. Party seemed pretty good and well balanced, and combats proved to be just speed bumps.

I am kind of curious because I did the math for the worst possible configuration of this party trying to attempt this and its surprisingly only 50/50ish that it would have gone as horrible as it did which is surprising because I didn't realize how much the odds increase just having players doing the activity without being tremendously good at it.

Also just to answer your question about the item that would have helped it wasn't cognitive mutagen. It was eagle eye elixir. If I did the math correctly it ups the odds of discovering the hazard to about 65 percent.
EDIT:
Knowing what the actual hazard is that you are talking about Im only including the +1 from the Eagle Eye and not the +2.

Dark Archive 4/5 ** Venture-Lieutenant, Finland—Turku

Adam Yakaboski wrote:

Also just to answer your question about the item that would have helped it wasn't cognitive mutagen. It was eagle eye elixir. If I did the math correctly it ups the odds of discovering the hazard to about 65 percent.

EDIT:
Knowing what the actual hazard is that you are talking about Im only including the +1 from the Eagle Eye and not the +2.

Not sure how you got 65%. Only 1 of the party can spot the hazard due to it requiring expert in perception (unless some of them have taken canny acumen, which they definitely should. One of the best general feats in the game). Fighter has lvl+expert+wisdom+eagle eye, for 3+4+1+1 =9 vs DC 23 = 14 required = 35% chance to spot it.

(Also, fighter actually had wisdom 0 when I checked it, but I'm using +1 because that's what I originally used in the calculations, I think. Also, fighter has bravery, so if they succeeded at initial save, they wouldn't be frightened at all, but they also have 65% chance of failing it, causing them to become frightened 1)

The Exchange 4/5 5/5

There was a thread a couple of years ago about the Starfinder DCs. Specifically about how SFS writers were starting to utilize DCs that would be classed as "more difficult" or "prohibitively high." In some cases none of the pregens could make those checks.

The Starfinder design extremely favors a class that is "supposed to be good" at a skill (automatic insight bonus and matching key ability score). A solarion can pump everything possible (race, feats, theme) into Computers and will still only tie the bonus of the technomancer who did nothing other than put ranks in the skill.

For both Starfinder and Pathfinder 2, I think the biggest change from previous systems (3.5, etc.) is that the balance seems to be set so that if you are "good" at a particular skill you will still only have about a 50-50 chance at succeeding on an average check.

Sovereign Court 3/5 *

And that is the problem with the DCs in 2e. More often than not they are written so that most will not be able to achieve them at low levels. I have played several games where only 1 or sometimes none can make the rolls. Of course, this makes it not very fun for people to play the scenarios when they are made to feel useless on checks.

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