Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Life Just Got Harder - Skill DC Increase

WotC released new Skill DCs (Difficulty Classes) on their website today; these numbers are what will be included in the new Essentials Rules Compendium and on the DM Screen in the Essentials DM Kit. They differ significantly from those found in the DMG and, more recently, DMG 2.

I won't reprint the table (go to Wizards and see the values for yourself), but there are two significant differences between the old and new values:
  1. There are new values for every level as opposed to values for 3-level bands;
  2. The DCs are higher, making skill rolls more difficult.
Skill DCs increment by 1 either every level or every two levels as opposed to the previous increase of 1 or 2 pips every level band. The top of the DCs increase by 14% for Moderate and by 26%-27% at Easy and Hard difficulties; the DCs for any given level increase from as little as 7% to as much as 80%, suggesting a new methodology behind the DCs as opposed to a small tweak in their calculation. This new methodology assumes success on an 8+, or roughly 65% of the time.

The article also goes on to better explain the three categories (Easy, Moderate, and Hard) and what types of situations call for each. Looking at those descriptions and the new skill DCs leads me to the following conclusions:
  1. Easy challenges were previously too easy and not real challenges. I've come across that determination several times while playing / running several adventures. Now, the Easy DC represents a challenge to someone untrained in a particular skill and to those without a relevant ability modifier. The DC values range from 8 to 24 in this tier and have increased the most, an average of 37% over all 30 levels. This increase indicates that unskilled checks and group checks will be a more challenging, and provides a real incentive for a designer to include these checks in their adventures.
  2. Moderate challenges were more in-line with the goal, as they have undergone the least change. This DC represents a challenge for someone with a bit of training or a high ability score or a racial bonus combined with a feat or class bonus, etc. The DC values range from 12 to 32 in this tier and have increased the least, an average of just 17%.
  3. Hard challenges were affected significantly, but not as much as Easy challenges were. The Hard DC represents either a challenge for a focused character or the target for the second use of the same skill (following the success of the first check at the Moderate DC). The DC values range from 19-42 and have increased an average of 27%.
For LFR Mods, the new skill DCs are as follows:

H1 9 13 19 10 14 21
H2 10 15 22 11 16 23
H3 12 16 24 13 18 26
P1 14 20 28 15 21 29
P2 15 22 30 16 23 31
P3 17 23 32 18 25 34

Do you think these are too easy? Too hard? How do you feel about success occurring roughly 65% of the time? Let me know!


  1. I like the idea of the increase in difficulty for skill challenges. As it is, it's very hard to rationalize adding easy checks into an adventure at all.

    In addition, I wish they'd add a fourth category: "group checks" which have a difficulty that assumes success is unlikely unless multiple players contribute aid to the group's most skilled member.

    The problem for LFR is that most skill challenges are designed ham-fistedly, such that the penalty for failure is pretty extreme. Three failures is really easy to amass in high-complexity skill challenges, and if failing is decidedly less fun than success, it's a poor design

  2. Ryan the descriptions make it clear Easy is for group checks. I know I'm very happy with the changes. Now putting a check at hard matters, and doesn't have to be the default!

  3. @Ryan - I agree that previously, easy skill checks were pointless unless no one in the group was training in that particular skill. Even with these revisions, I feel that the easy checks are still too easy for anyone trained in the skill.

    As for group checks, I don't know that a fourth difficulty really solves the problem. Set that DC too low, and the party as a whole waltzes through with little real risk of failure. Make it too high, and the party might still fail a complicated skill challenge.

    The real solution for this problem is better skill challenge design; three ways to improve a skill challenge:

    1. Broaden the number of relevant skills; this allows for the use of moderate and difficult DCs without putting success out of reach;

    2. Select relevant skills carefully, making sure to avoid accidently having the only "good" skills be available to a small number of classes, etc.

    3. Develop interesting story options for "success" or "failure".