Hipsters & Dragons

Because roleplaying is social, creative, fun… and kinda cool!

Not The Dreaded DC 15…

On page 174 of the Player’s Handbook there’s a table of Difficulty Classes for ability checks that goes a little something like this…

DIFFICULTY CLASSES (PLAYER’S HANDBOOK)
Task DifficultyDC
Very easy5
Easy10
Medium15
Hard20
Very hard25
Nearly impossible30

As you can see, to succeed on a Medium difficulty skill check you need to roll a 15.

What’s my problem with that? It’s way too difficult, that’s what!

Without modifiers you only have a 30% chance of succeeding at something that is supposed to represent an averagely difficult task. But even with a +3 modifier of someone incredibly naturally gifted at this type of challenge (ie. someone with a score of 16 in Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom etc.), and a +2 proficiency modifier for someone with relevant skill and training, you will still need to roll a 10 to succeed at this ‘average’ task.

A trained and talented hero has a 45% chance of failing at a Medium difficult task in their greatest area of strength

This means a trained and talented hero has a 45% chance of failing at a Medium difficult task in their greatest area of strength (at least until level 4… although the picture hardly changes greatly, even towards mid and high tiers).

That really bugs me.

15 is pretty much the standard DC baked into any published 5e D&D adventure and also the one that DMs give out for any task when improvising on the fly… of course they do. The rules pretty much tell them to.

Low fence jump…. shall we say DC 15?

It works well enough when it’s a group check that only one PC has to succeed at, such as a Perception check, but it can make getting even seemingly basic tasks done almost impossible when PCs are acting alone.

I’ve endured countless irritating times at the table when my insanely agile rogue can’t walk across a simple log bridge without taking a swim in the raging river below…

I’ve endured countless irritating times at the table when my insanely agile rogue can’t walk across a simple log bridge without taking a swim in the raging river below, or my beefy barbarian can’t climb a rope, or fails to break down a door. Some of these challenges are ones I’d fancy my undextrous, unbeefy self to be able to do in real life! (Not break down a door… that is really tough, as I once had the misfortune to find out!).

The picture gets far worse the minute you need to succeed in two or more tasks. A stealthy barbarian that needs to climb up a wall (DC 15 with +5 modifier), then sneak past a guard (DC 15 with +4), then lower a drawbridge (DC 15 with +5) would have only a 15% percent chance of pulling off their mission. With those odds maybe he should just go back home!

And before you start writing your comment, I actually love failing in D&D. It’s fun, dramatic and often very funny.

And yes, I do also understand the narrative power of set backs, and the experienced and talented DMs I am lucky enough to play with often offer ‘get out’ checks, or other chances to deal with failed rolls that often improve the story. And that’s great.

But nonetheless I want my heroes to be able to succeed at the things they’re great at 8 or 9 times out of 10… not barely more than 50 percent of the time. And that way, the times they do f@ck up will be memorable, and not annoyingly frequent… almost to the point of being predictable.

(And let’s not forget, there’s still ALL the things that heroes are crap at for them to fail at, without having to see them mess up the things they’re supposedly good at quite so often).

Can We Get Some Love for DC 10?

Anyway mild-tempered rant over. The point of this post is to encourage the dungeon delving, dragon-slaying world that DC 10 should be the new DC 15, and that their game will make more sense for it.

I feel labelling DC 10 as ‘easy’ in the Player’s Handbook has been bad branding for this unloved check point, which in most cases will still deliver a solid 20-50% failure rate.

And let me say that there’s nothing wrong with DCs 11-14 either (or 6-19 for that matter), if it means giving a PC a few extra percent chance to succeed where it makes sense to do so.

I am also a big fan of DC 12 as another “go-to” Difficulty Class. The way I see it, both DCs 10 and 12 offer a real chance of failure on any given check, without loading the odds unnecessarily against the hero.

I’ll sign off with a tweaked Difficulty Class table that I hope will encourage DMs to think about DCs a little differently…

DIFFICULTY CLASSES (HIPSTER’S REMIX)
Task DifficultyDC
Very Easy5
Easy8
Medium10
Tricky12
Hard15
Very hard20
Incredibly hard25
Why bother?30

So readers… are you feeling me? Or not really… leave a (respectful) reply in the comments!

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2 Comments

  1. chris stomberg

    I wholeheartedly agree. Dungeons and Dragons is a game of heroes, not a drunken bunch of bumbling incapables. I have found, in my games, that setting improvised DCs outside of the “5, 10, 15, 20” suggestions makes for a more cinematic adventure. Not only that, but it keeps the players guessing. One rule I also like to implement is DC modifications. If a player stands up from the table, puts on his angriest barbarian rage face, and gives his best attempt at a high kick while roleplaying his character bashing open a door, you can bet I’m reducing the DC. Actually, in this case I’d probably provide the player advantage on the roll. Either way, a successful DnD session is based on the story and the experience, not the dice.

    • duncan

      Hi Chris

      Thanks for the comment! Glad we’re in agreement here.

      Interesting that you like to keep the players guessing… whilst I see the advantages there, when DMing I often like for players to know the DC of what they are trying, in order to give them a chance to change their mind if our imaginations are not aligned. For example, in their head, they might think that their Acrobatic rogue can jump off the back of one dragon onto another in mid air relatively easily. But when I set the DC to 30, then they at least know the risks before they most likely kill off their character, and a potentially upsetting scenario unfolds! Extreme example, but you see my point. People imagine things differently so it’s good for players to know what they’re attempting, particularly in scenarios where failure will hurt.

      I enjoyed your idea of giving advantage for spirited acting! Haha, well I like to set Charisma check DCs according to how well the player spoke, and how convincing their arguments were, but I never thought of adjusting DC for physical tests… until now 😉

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