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…

Task DifficultyDC
Very easy5
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…

Task DifficultyDC
Very Easy5
Very hard20
Incredibly hard25
Why bother?30

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


Drinking a Healing Potion in Combat (New Rule)


The 15 Things I Love Most About 5th Edition…


  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 😉

  2. Jeff

    I am so happy I found this article! I have only recently bought the 5e rules and have been a DM for friends. I haven’t played D&D since the 80s!
    Well, I do love the new rules but when I saw that DC chart and it says “Medium” difficulty was a 15 roll I immediately thought that was too hard.

    Thank you of validating my gut reaction! 🙂

    • duncan

      Hi Jeff

      Great to hear you’re getting back into the game! I also took a long break between 1996 and 2016.

      Glad the post helped. Obviously different scenarios call for different DCs, but I wouldn’t throw out 15 as your ‘go-to’ DC.

      Happy gaming 🙂


    • Brenden1k

      I would guess but do not know that much about D&D that is susposed to be medium dc for heroic thing, something easy for a random peasant like jumping a small gap with a running start is why roll Territory, while the default dc for grabbing a chandelier mid jump and swinging across a large gap from one side of the bar room upper story to another is either medium or hard with advantage, but should be medium so a running start can give advantage. That is a 15 dc roll that makes players feel heroic if they succeed and like reality ensured if they do not.

      • Ben S.

        That is exactly how I see it. Climbing a rope is an Easy check, not Medium. If climbing a rope is Medium then do players need to succeed on an Easy check to climb a ladder? Just allow auto success on mundane tasks and only roll for heroic stuff. Problem solved. Obviously whatever works for your table is best. Good gaming!

  3. Gabe

    Funny, when I read this I thought “but WotC updated this in an errata ages ago right?” I went back and realized they updated this in 4th edition, not 5e.

    Right after 4th came out they got this feedback and changed the DCs from 15 medium to 10 medium (there was more of a chart for skill checks based on character levels in that cursed edition).

    You can google “January 2009 4th edition DnD update” and find it.


    I didn’t even notice this when I read the books because I’m so used to playing against the other chart.

    I wonder why they went back to these old DCs? Because I totally agree that this is a much better way to play.

    • duncan

      Very interesting, thanks Gabe!

      I didn’t play any 4th edition (or 3rd!), so I was totally unaware of this.

      If I remember, back in 2nd, or maybe even 1st edition AD&D, we used to roll underneath our ability score to succeed on a task. I am not sure if those were the official rules or not though!

      But anyhow, strange that they’ve had this issue before, ‘fixed it’ (depending on your POV) and then gone back.

      I can only assume that it’s because DC 10 can feel too easy for many group checks where only one person need succeed, or for high level parties.

      I think it just shows though, that if 10 and 15 weren’t nice round numbers they wouldn’t be used as the checkpoints. Otherwise you’d assume there would be no need for WOTC to be going back and forth on themselves.

  4. Angel

    Ok. So I’m new but I guess I misinterpreted (or misunderstood completely) the rule. I thought the task was relative to the players character. So to kick open a door for a puny guy you’d have to role a 20 and for a strong guy he’d only have to role a 10 because kicking open a door would be an easy task for the strong guy but hard for the weak one.

    • duncan

      Hi Angel

      I’ve not seen anyone interpret the rules this way, although that would certainly make sense if you were going for realism.

      D&D’s system is not very realistic at all in that it gives pretty much everyone a chance to succeed – or fail – at doing something, only slightly modified by their natural aptitude or training. If realism is your goal, your approach would make much better sense, or you could even recalibrate the game so that ability modifiers were your ability score minus 10 (I.e. Strength 15 = +5, Intelligence 8 = -2 etc. etc.) and then raise the average DC challenges.

      To defend the existing system I’ll say that it’s more fun to have that chance of success and failure always somewhat in the balance, and that also many skills checks take place in challenging circumstances… breaking down a door in one round in order to escape, or scrambling up a tree while injured and being chased by a pack of giant hyenas, in which case luck always plays a large role.

      I’ve seen Jeremy Crawford state in certain circumstances, like an arm wrestle, the best thing to do is compare Strength scores and see who has the highest to determine the winner. That’s actually very ‘anti D&D’ for me… 🤣

      My personal approach to add a bit more realism to the game would be to keep skills checks as they are, but to award advantage or disadvantage in cases where it makes sense. Tough guy taking a run up on a door with a huge axe = advantage… weedy wizard with no athletics proficiency = disadvantage.

      Advantage / disadvantage is great for realism because it really consolidates the probability of something likely happening (or something unlikely not happening).

      • Mark

        This is a great idea, using advantage/disadvantage to push the probability curve either way. From a statistical viewpoint, it gives GM’s more options in how to determine the ease/difficulty of a task or as a cause of some effect (such as an avalanche) that calls for a DC roll.

        I’ve used it some, mostly relying on determining DC scale, but now I’ll use the advantage/disadvantage adjustment a lot more in addition to the DC evalation. Thanks!

  5. Adrian

    Thanks for pointing out the math on this. It does put it in perspective a bit and may affect how I handle things going forward. I might have some ideas to contribute to the conversation.
    1. It had been suggested to me the idea of success, with consequences/complications if players miss a DC by one or two. EG, the DC15 lock pick check. on a 14 the door is opened but the lock is jammed with a tension bar stuck in it making it obvious it’s been tampered with. This might even just be something in the DMG I’d just forgotten about.
    2. In generic repeating checks like again the DC15 lock pick, I don’t like to second guess published adventure DCs too much… but I’ve toyed around with adjusting the DC via use of 1-3 fate/fudge dice (permanent, per door, not modifying the DC on each player attempt). These are the dice that are labeled -1/blank/+1. I’d just learned about this idea recently. So a dungeon with a bunch of DC15 locks will still be DC15 on average, but it’ll give some infrequent outliers of DC12 or even DC18 to add interest. Typically reserved for things where the attempt can be repeated and/or doesn’t risk harsh punishment for failure. Because players start assuming default DC15 after a while too. I haven’t played with this very much yet, so can’t say if it’s a *good* idea yet.
    3. I liked Duncan’s idea above of letting players know the DC, mostly. I’ve been trying to come up with ways to better convey a character’s common sense to their player. I don’t want to take away the sense of risk completely, but I think going forward I’d have them make a related check for appraisal. Like if they were about to try to jump a chasm that exceeds their normal long jump, and I’ve set a DC15 on it I think I’d have them make a nonstandard DC15 Wisdom(Athletics) check. Passing that I think I’d tell them the exact DC of the jump. Undecided how I’d handle degrees of failure on the wisdom check. Already doing something similar in another scenario – implementing a low DC Wis or Int check to determine if I’m going to tell the player that they’re about to try something that their character should just know better about – when the player forgets a detail of a spell or class feature, or forgets their character’s own recent personal history for instance.

    • duncan

      Hi Adrian

      Sorry, seems I forgot to reply.

      1. Totally agree! Complications beat outright failure and add extra drama.

      2. I had never seen this idea before… but it has some merit, although could slow down gameplay. I’d be tempted to use it after the PC has rolled their Thieves Tools check… PC: “So I got 16” DM: “Ok, now let’s see what the lock’s DC is…” and then roll the fate dice in front of them for extra drama. Or once they know the system roll them all together with the player, almost like a contest.

      3. Makes sense… although better to roll their Wisdom check secretly, and then tell them the DC dependent on what they got, misleading them if they rolled real bad. I would use this sparingly in any case, or in slow moments of the game only.

      Cheers for input!

  6. Ankheg

    I like margin on DCs, where result changes, depending on how much you get higher or lower on a roll than a said DC. Characters don’t exactly fail if they get lower result – they get complications, or other interesting tidbits happen.

    • duncan

      Yes, I like that style of DMing too 🙂

      The rolls can inspire the story…

  7. Highland Troll

    I think you’re coming at this from the wrong angle. The rule of thumb is:

    – If the task is easy enough that the character shouldn’t ever fail, don’t roll. Just describe that they’ve succeeded.
    – If the task is so hard that the character can’t possibly succeed, don’t roll. Just say it’s too hard. If the player insists on trying…
    – If there is a chance of either success or failure, choose a DC that fits your estimate of the likelihood, roll the dice and narrate the outcome either way.

    So if you think your rogue should be able to cross that log bridge easily, either don’t roll at all or set the DC low. If she still fails, maybe she’s a cocky so-and-so who needed taking down a peg (didn’t notice that bit of moss…?).

  8. I think it may just be a matter of nomenclature. “A simple log bridge” is an EASY task, not a medium one. And honestly, if it’s that simple, why roll for it at all? If a failure at something doesn’t make a difference other than to make a hero look like a zero, don’t call for a roll, just let the player cross the bridge already.

    • Dave

      Why roll for an easy task? Because the majority of players will find it more fun to do so. Having the GM tell you that you don’t need to roll for something because it’s easy for you isn’t satisfying, but rolling and adding your bonuses to see that you’ve surpassed the DC by a long shot makes your character feel awesome and fun. And isn’t that why people play?

  9. Bongobongo

    I love it and am implementing your ideas. thanks for sharing!

  10. i can fell you with your idea. my approach is to determine proficiency. if someone is proficient with the tast, his DC is always easier as for someone who is not. its always easier for someone proficient to solve the task, but local and situational circumstances -maybe even based on roleplaying *gasp*- can be used to determine a decent dc. so to sneak past alert guards could be a dc15 in general. for someone unskilled or just blunt it could be dc20! not impossible to reach, but LUCK is needed. for the rogue i could lower this to a dc10. or just grant advantage/disadvantage depending on gut feeling and rule of cool.

  11. Completely agree. While the book works fine for mid to late level parties, especially those early level parties are going to struggle. A 15 is not average when you have a nearly 3/4 chance of failure. When even the “easy” 10 is a 50/50, not the hero’s journey you expect in the beginning. Great write up.

  12. Mark

    Great article and solid with the numbers from a probability viewpoint. You broke it up into a few more tiers between DC5 and DC15.

    As a GM, I don’t strictly adhere to the +5 tiers in the books, I might have a situation that calls for something like a DC7 for a party-wide stealth ability check to a DC 17, which indeed is quite difficult but quite possible (>10-20% chance) with characters at 5th level. As characters gain levels (and modifiers), the DC’s will become easier.

  13. CoinCrafter

    Worth noting this all presumes your character is working alone (no buffs) and doesn’t have advantage (which is pretty easy to get, especially when you aren’t alone).

    15 is specifically a medium challenge, not a medium “task.”

    • duncan

      True, that’s a good counterpoint. Sometimes folks forget to use the Help action (although it’s not always appropriate).

  14. ARedthorn

    On the other hand… a highly optimized party breaks this in the other direction.

    In mine, for example:

    The wizard dipped Knowledge Cleric so he could get Expertise on History and Arcana.
    The bard has Expertise on Acrobatics, Insight, Persuasion and Stealth.
    With feats, the ranger/rogue has Expertise on History, Investigation, Nature, Perception, Stealth and Survival.

    They have good key stats, and have gone out of their way to kit themselves out with anything that gives a bonus to skills and saves (there are multiple luckstones in the party).

    All in all – for any of those key skills – I reliably have at least one player rolling a +14… which makes a DC15 trivial for that player, on that skill. Add in help actions, to provide advantage… and DC20 is trivial. Skill challenges just aren’t… challenging for them, ever, unless I set DCs in the upper 20’s. (And sometimes that’s fine – sometimes it shouldn’t be challenging to get through a door… but sometimes it should.)

    And don’t get me started on saves. We have a paladin with a strong Charisma… no one’s strong on every save… but no one’s weak on any save while he’s around… and the highest save in the party is a +15 (Con +4, Cha +4, Prof +4, Staff of Power +2, Stone of Good Luck +1).

    Some groups really enjoy optimizing… I have one of those… and in a campaign that’s gone long enough to reach mid-level… DC15 is (situationally) trivial, not hard.

    The rule of thumb on DCs in the book is about as useful as a dead rat.

    Know your players, and set DCs based on how tough you want a thing to be in the moment, for the players in question.

    • duncan

      Hi ARedthorn

      Thanks for sharing your experience, which is quite different to mine, and I’m sure others have encountered similar problems as you.

      However, I do think your experience is more the outlier, as it seems your party have all gone and got the Expertise ability. That ability was really designed only for Rogues, to replicate their role from early editions, and then got tacked onto bards and was an obvious boon to give Knowledge domain clerics as well. Probably only some 15% of PCs created have Expertise… so your party has considerably skewed the norm here, by all taking it. Once you get to +4 proficiency bonus, it’s true that someone with Expertise is unlikely to fail many standard checks. But I’m sure 85% of PCs don’t have Expertise!

      I also think you’re also referring more to skills checks where only one party member has to succeed… if the whole party have to succeed on an Animal Handling check, even in your skills optimised party, I’m sure even a DC 10 or 15 will still see a failure!

      This post is more about setting DCs for individual exploits, when even two DC 15 challenges can really stack the odds against a heroic success.

      Finally, I don’t think you’re suggesting this, but I would be very against raising DCs just because your party have optimised their skills. For me, in a consistent and credible world, DCs can’t go up just because the party have become more skilled… the challenge is rather to present harder challenges – not to give the same challenges a harder DC.

      As I say, don’t think you were suggesting that, but I leave that out there as I feel like that quite important advice for DMs… Players that optimise their PCs for skills SHOULD pass nearly all their basic checks, at least if they’ve also managed to survive until tier 3.

      As for paladins and saving throws… yeah that Aura of Protection is a very underrated ability. On the other hand the 10 feet range is pretty puny… that’s 3 metres – don’t let the PCs claim they are always stand so close together (unless they are positioned like that on a grid). To counter AoP you could try smashing Area of Effect spells onto the party as a punishment for clumping together, and then when isolated pick them off with nasty one target spells etc. – if you feel that it’s proving too influential!

Leave a Reply to duncan Cancel reply

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Blood Games Inc. introduces...DRAGONBOWL!

Don’t miss the latest epic adventure by Hipsters & Dragons!

16 unique gladiatorial teams

30 festival locations

1 shot at sporting immortality

%d bloggers like this: