WOIN Calibrating Difficulty Benchmarks to player expectations

TheHirumaChico

Explorer
I'm curious as to how my fellow WOIN GMs feel about setting Difficulty Benchmarks and their players perceptions of what their characters should be able to do easily or not. I had an example of this type of misalignment of expectations in a recent play session of my ongoing WOIN NOW campaign. One of my players wanted his character to try and spoof a Wi-Fi security camera by hacking into it remotely via a nano-drone that he parked next to the camera. His character has the "CCTV" exploit from 2 career levels in Hacker, so I allowed his character to automatically gain access to the camera's video and audio feed via this exploit, but not to automatically spoof the camera. His character has 3d6 from LOG 7 attribute and 2d6 from the 3 ranks in the Computers skill. I ruled that he could not use his high-quality electronics tool kit to give him an equipment bonus since he was making the spoof attempt remotely and he agreed that was reasonable. On p. 134 of the NOW Core rulebook, it gives some example difficulty benchmarks, and I set a target of 17, because picking a lock is suggested to be a Difficult 16 benchmark and I figured (rightly or wrongly, I'd welcome other opinions) that this is slightly harder than picking a lock. He made the target number by rolling a 17 exactly on 5d6, yay! I shared that he succeeded exactly as I had some initial confusion in my GM notes and thought I had the set the DC to 18, but then realized I had misread my notes. The player character then tells his teammates that these must be very high grade cameras and that perhaps the security is much more than meets the eye because they were so hard to hack and his character is very adept at this.

These are Grade 10 MDP 7d6 characters, and I would note that he has intended his character to be the team's hacker & electronics expert, but also a dual-pistol-wielding Gun Fu artist. And he seems to think that his Grade 10 character with 2d6 skill in Computers (1d6 in Electronics) plus a 7 LOG (3d6) score (Grade 5 characters start with a 3 score = 2d6 in all attributes except CHI/SUP/PSI) makes him a very skilled hacker, when 5d6 total without LUC only gives a 61% chance of success vs. a Difficult 17 target number, and 6d6 by adding one LUC die gives an 86% chance of success. Am I off-base here in thinking that his character is pretty good, but isn't really great, at these particular skills, just better than the other characters who have no skill ranks in computers and electronics? In the meantime, he has got INTU of 12 (4d6) and a pistols skill of 6 (3d6), which does mean his character is definitely very good at pistols, and his thinking so is warranted.

But I want to try to convey this misconception to him, because I feel he is then drawing potentially incorrect conclusions about the story/plot/mission and the other players seem to be thinking along the same lines. And this may cause us some misalignment of expectation issues as we move forward in the campaign. Thanks in advance for reading this. I look forward to your input!
 
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That's an interesting but also somehow weird question.

From an "absolute" point of view, you could remark that the typical unskilled npc normally rolls 2 or 3d6 (attribute only), which means that they have 50% odds of success for difficulty benchmarks of 7 and 10 respectively. A skilled but still normal npc may roll 4d6 (attribute+1 rank skill), which means 50% success in task with difficulty 14.

So since he rolls 5d6 in hacking, he has 50% chances of success against DC 17, meaning he can do very easily stuff that normal people find challenging or maybe even almost impossible.
However, his skills with guns is much much better, giving him 50% chance of hitting a defense of 23-24.
So, from an absolute point of view his hacking skills are way worse than his guns skills.

However, the perception of difficulty of a task depends on his own skill. Regardless of how many dice he rolls, he may consider a task to be challenging if he only has 50% chances of succeeding, while a task may be considered easy if the chances of succeeding are say 85%, or very hard if they are below 15%. This are personal, psychological thresholds, and I'm not sure there's even a point in confronting a player regarding these.
What you cold do to make him more aware of his relative strenghts and weaknesses, is say "if you had as much training/talent as you had in guns, you'd succeed this task 90% of the times instead of 50%". This however is not always an obvious task, since you need to compute the actual chances of success for an arbitrary benchmark when rolling a certain amount of dice (seems a good idea for an online tool or a table to be added in WOIN resources, btw)

Finally, keep in mind that anyone may add LUCK dice to a roll. Since those dice explode, there's a vanishingly small but non zero chance for a normal untrained character to beat a DC 40+ task.
 

TheHirumaChico

Explorer
That's an interesting but also somehow weird question.

From an "absolute" point of view, you could remark that the typical unskilled npc normally rolls 2 or 3d6 (attribute only), which means that they have 50% odds of success for difficulty benchmarks of 7 and 10 respectively. A skilled but still normal npc may roll 4d6 (attribute+1 rank skill), which means 50% success in task with difficulty 14.

So since he rolls 5d6 in hacking, he has 50% chances of success against DC 17, meaning he can do very easily stuff that normal people find challenging or maybe even almost impossible.
However, his skills with guns is much much better, giving him 50% chance of hitting a defense of 23-24.
So, from an absolute point of view his hacking skills are way worse than his guns skills.

However, the perception of difficulty of a task depends on his own skill. Regardless of how many dice he rolls, he may consider a task to be challenging if he only has 50% chances of succeeding, while a task may be considered easy if the chances of succeeding are say 85%, or very hard if they are below 15%. This are personal, psychological thresholds, and I'm not sure there's even a point in confronting a player regarding these.
What you cold do to make him more aware of his relative strengths and weaknesses, is say "if you had as much training/talent as you had in guns, you'd succeed this task 90% of the times instead of 50%". This however is not always an obvious task, since you need to compute the actual chances of success for an arbitrary benchmark when rolling a certain amount of dice (seems a good idea for an online tool or a table to be added in WOIN resources, btw)

Finally, keep in mind that anyone may add LUCK dice to a roll. Since those dice explode, there's a vanishingly small but non zero chance for a normal untrained character to beat a DC 40+ task.
Thanks for the feedback lichmaster! I would note that in my haste to post this thread yesterday I made a few errors which I have just corrected above, the primary error being that I misremembered the character's stats and how he got to 5d6.

I like your suggestion of trying to make the player more aware of his character's strengths and weaknesses. I think I have some ideas and examples for this:
  1. The suggested stats for a Civilian in Appendix B of the NOW Core Rulebook (p. 206) has 4 LOG (2d6) and a computers skill rank of 1 (1d6), so the Civilian has 3d6 for Computer skill checks, while this PC has 5d6. The difference is somewhat significant in that 3d6 only succeed vs. a Difficult 17 benchmark 2% of the time, while the 5d6 succeeds 61% of the time. But that means 5d6 fails 39% of the time vs. a Difficult 17 benchmark.
  2. If we take the example in the book of picking a lock having a suggested Difficult 16 benchmark (I'm presuming an average lock?), then if the character is an average human with 2d6 AGI and also a slightly non-average human with an actual 1 Rank in Thievery (1d6), for a total of 3d6, that character is still only going succeed in picking a lock 5% of the time. That goes up to a 71% chance of success a total of 5d6. If I lock myself out of my house and I call a locksmith service and they say they only have a 71% chance of solving my problem, I think I'd continue my web search and find another locksmith to call. I'm not expecting a 100% perfection guarantee, but I would expect someone who calls themselves a locksmith and advertises this as their profession would not fail nearly 30% of the time.
I would also note that you are 100% correct that a table of dice probabilities vs. benchmarks is a useful tool, and so I would point you to this post entitled "WOIN Probabilities (inclusive of triple 6s auto success)", where user Cat In The Hat has already been kind enough to provide us with one! That's where I have been getting all these probability numbers for this thread. Thanks again for the input, it is very helpful!
 
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TheHirumaChico

Explorer
Hmm, I'm digging through the NOW Core Rulebook some more and I'm feeling that something is still not making sense. On p. 20, there is a description of Skill Levels, and it says that "As a general rule, 1 skill rank is proficient, 3 is a roughly equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, and 6 is a doctorate level of expertise." Oxford Dictionary says that proficient means "competent or skilled in doing or using something." Per p. 16 in the Attributes section it says "The human heritage is used as a benchmark for “average,” with a score of with 4 in each physical, mental, and personal attribute being roughly average for an adult human." So in my locksmith example above, would the average professional civilian locksmith have 4 AGI and 1 skill rank for 3d6 total and be considered proficient? This average proficient human locksmith would only succeed 5% of the time in picking the lock that has a suggested Difficulty Benchmark of 16. So my question now becomes is this Difficulty Benchmark 16 lock not an average home or business lock, but a really darned good lock? Are we talking picking the lock of a high-quality combination safe or picking the lock of a door with a standard toothed brass key?
 

Hmm, I have several things to say.

The table you're using is wrong IMO for a specific reason: "If a triple-six is rolled while making an attribute check,
and the check is one which succeeds, a critical success takes place. This means that an additional or extra-
ordinary benefit occurs—the task is accomplished to a much higher degree"
The table should report values of 0% for DCs higher than the max of an nd6 roll, since you cannot obtain a higher value than that. Besides, the rules don't say anything about automatic success, they just say that you obtain an extra effect if you pass the test, so the probabilities shown are all incorrect.

Also I do not consider 3 sixes an automatic success because after a certain amount of dice you auto-succeed whatever the difficulty is. Makes sense if this is how you're conceptualizing omnipotent beings, but not for fallible (albeit mythic) creatures. I'm also against all forms of auto success, because some players can use them to justify campaign altering events ("I rolled 3 sixes, thus I convince the king to abdicate in my favor").

That said, the chances to score DC 17-18 with 5d6 is approx 50%.

For the lock example, let's use a DC of 18 for easy numbers. A character that rolls 3d6 has only 0.5% of success (1/216), making that task nigh impossible for him. A character rolling 5d6 has 50% chance.
To me, this says that the task itself is quite difficult, since it's a coin toss even for a quite competent but otherwise normal person, but nigh impossible for untrained people.

In your example of being stuck out of the house and calling a locksmith, you could consider that the DC is actually much lower (maybe 10) but you normally don't have the tools and you're probably not very skilled. So assuming normal attributes for 2d6, no skill, and a -2d6 penalty for improvised tools, means you have no chance. The locksmith instead may simply have 3d6 and the right tool, and would succeed in one shot with 50% chance. He could also retry since he'd normally not be in any danger, meaning that barring accidents which jam the lock or break the tools, the lock will be open after a few attempts.

Also, my experience is that locksmiths normally drill away your door lock and replace it, they don't pick it like a spy/thief would. So the action they'd be doing is completely different and not really bound to fail. You can always decide that an action is mundane for the people with the right skills and tools, so that no roll is needed in any case.
 

Suskeyhose

Explorer
I think there's one huge oversight here that might be coming from expectations set by other games or by reading too much into standard npc blocks.

The "adult human average" of 4 in an attribute is not what an average locksmith would have. Each character if built like a player will have different numbers for each attribute, and NPCs are built in a way different from PCs just for convenience. To give GM fiat and make playing them easier, since their stats don't matter for their own lives, they only come into play when they come in contest with the players, so they're usually simplified.

If we account for building them like a player, being a locksmith is a skilled job requiring a lot of finger dexterity, so their agility will be higher than average, and unless the character is a fresh locksmith with only one career grade they will probably have more than one rank, likeky three ranks if this is their long term career.

This means an "average professional locksmith" is probably rolling 5d6 on lockpicking, with a reasonable chance of high quality lockpicks since this is their job, giving 6d6.

This is a good assumption because if you check out the rules for applying careers to NPCs, it says they should be rolling at their MDP for any check related to their career, and a standard average citizen can be expected to be in the 4-7 MDP range depending on their age and level of motivation.

Combined with the fact that the consequences of failure is just a little wasted time (and maybe a broken pick on a crit fumble if you're using that rule), this is perfectly reasonable, they will get you in your house in short order on a Difficult lock.

To address your player's expectations here, I would call attention to their max die pool. Any area that the player has special focus they should be rolling at their max die pool. For their primary focus this should be by attribute and skill alone, and for secondary focuses this should be shored up by equipment bonuses.

In your particular example, I would call attention to the fact that your player is operating without their conventional tools, and use that to help them gauge how difficult it actually is.

Also in this situation, maybe even call out that the drone could've added an equipment quality bonus if it was of an appropriate quality.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I’d say he’s like people in Star Trek. Most crew are competent at each other’s jobs — they can take the helm or repair a thing - but the specialists are good at it.

He’s… Worf? The best at fighting, but has adequate Starfleet training to do some computers stuff when Data is busy. But Data is as good at computers as Worf is at fighting.
 

TheHirumaChico

Explorer
Thank you all taking the time to provide these very helpful responses, much appreciated! Special thank you @lichmaster for pointing out the subtle difference between attribute checks and attack rolls that me and my players had missed. On p. 147 it says "If triple-sixes are rolled on the attack roll, a critical hit occurs. A critical hit automatically hits, and inflicts a condition on the target, as explained later." But we had missed that there is not an automatic success on the attribute rolls as noted on p. 134. And I am definitely recalibrating myself as to how I view NPC/PC competency and difficulty benchmarks.

I do think I have arrived at a better analogy for trying to explain this sense of miscalibration with my players. Their characters are all Grade 10, and I've asked them to all be combat capable, all former special forces operatives now doing some foreign intelligence work for an agency. The best analogy is they are the Stonebridge's and Scott's from the Strike Back TV show. I think I can illustrate the situation by describing it in old school fantasy d20 terms, so that their Grade 10 characters = level 10 d20 fantasy characters. They have all multi-classed, so one character is a approximately an 8th level melee fighter/2nd level thief, the second character is roughly a 7th level dual-pistol fighter/3rd level magic user, and the third character is perhaps a 10th level pure ranger (outdoorsman/sniper). But I feel the 2nd player character is thinking he's more like at least a 5th or 6th level magic user (computer hacker), when he's really a much better fighter (dual pistol combat guy) with a couple levels of magic user added in. Or I can just use Morrus' other very accessible analogy and tell him he's not Data when it comes to computers, he's Worf. And he's not Geordi LaForge for electronics, he's still Worf. :p
 

On p. 147 it says "If triple-sixes are rolled on the attack roll, a critical hit occurs. A critical hit automatically hits, and inflicts a condition on the target, as explained later." :p
On page 147 of O.L.D. 1.2 it says "If triple-sixes are rolled on the attack roll, a hit is scored regardless of the target’s Defense score. If the attack would have ordinarily hit, a critical hit occurs. A critical hit inflicts a condition..."

So triple sixes do auto hit but do not auto crit (at least in O.L.D)
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
On p. 147 it says "If triple-sixes are rolled on the attack roll, a critical hit occurs. A critical hit automatically hits, and inflicts a condition on the target, as explained later."
Which version of the book are you looking at? From the 1.2 ruleset critical hits requires triple sixes in a roll which would normally hit. I wonder if NOW slip thorough the net on that ?
 

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