DC Building

How do you decide on a DC?

  • Bottom Up

    Votes: 16 48.5%
  • Top Down

    Votes: 17 51.5%

Blackbrrd

First Post
Top Down. To some it probably feels gamy that a wall should become harder to climb as you level up, but I create obstacles where they are meaningful. And if the DC of a climb becomes meaningless, the obstacle may as well just be part of the narrative.

The DC's are for actual challenges (whether it be an obstacle in the middle of combat or a skill challenge). I decide, this wall is going to be hard difficulty to climb, PC's are level 14, DC should be 23. At this point, I decide what the DC 23 wall should look like. It's a stone wall that's been weathered down with wind and sand, so the stones are smooth, what may once have been seams in the wall are filled with sand and calcified, hand holds are difficult to find.

Then I begin to cheat, and look at the Athletics skills for the PC's, three out of five have +18 or higher, and the lowest score is a +12. So this is not going to be very challenging for them. To add a little more excitement, I decide it's going to start raining just as they get to the wall, making the climb harder, increasing the DC by 2 for the first half the encounter, and by 5 for the second half.

If this was say a task requiring Thievery skill, and I realized the highest bonus in the party was a +9, I might be inclined to change something in the opposite direction, perhaps part of a mechanism is rusted or cracked, making it easy to smash and take out of the equation, and I'd lower the DC by 2 or 5.

So I basically start with the numbers, double check what the PC's are capable of, and then build in the picture based on the setting the challenge will be in.

I have the same thoughts as you do on this subject.

Regarding shifting how difficult something is according to how good the party is at the skills - well, I don't do it too much. I like it when a player goes: "I can do it, I am great at this stuff!". I might just shift it +/- 2.

If I want something to be more difficult I am more inclined to add other problems with different skills into the mix.

My players sometimes want to use different skills, for instance using bluff instead of diplomacy. I usually allow it, but up the target DC by 5 and adding some amusing point if it fails. It can't really fail doing it like that. Either the players fail in some spectacular fashion, or they succed in the same way. Both me and my players usually get some giggles out of it.

I remember a gully dwarf in a dragonlance campaign that bluffed some guards into taking care of the problem upstairs, while he would take care of the alert-gong. The DM was really good at explaining why the bluff worked and it was such a memorable moment. :)
 

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Mort_Q

First Post
If the same wall doesn´t get easier when PCs are leveling up... how should they feel that they get better?

Why would they be climbing the same wall?

An obstacle is something you put there for them to overcome. As they get better, you change the obstacle. A wall is a reasonable obstacle at low levels, and at higher levels it's just not interesting. I'm not suggesting an EPIC wall... I'm suggesting obstacles DCs are set by what the party can reasonably handle. If there are other ways to get where they need to go, then you don't need to be too careful picking the DC for a wall... if there isn't, then you need to look at their character sheets before setting the DC.
 
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Nytmare

David Jose
If the same wall doesn´t get easier when PCs are leveling up... how should they feel that they get better?

That isn't what Top Down would be.

If you create a challenge, like a wall, it's not that that one wall continues to morph and change as the PCs grow in experience so that it's always a difficult climb. The DC for that wall, if they have some kind of reason to keep coming back to it and climbing it level after level, would never change. Based off the chart, a wall that was hard to climb at first level (DC 15) would be easy to climb at levels 19-25 (DC 14-16).

Top down would be "I check the chart in the DMG, choose a difficulty, and then dress it up in a description that matches the DC."

Bottom up would be "I look to see what kind of wall it is, check the chart in the PHB, and then see what the total difficulty is."
 


Cyronax

Explorer
Bottom up. Though the PCs are the center of attention, I can't stand running a campaign that simply scales with the PCs.

That reflects my favoring of a 'sandbox' philosophy for DMing I suppose.

C.I.D.
 

Dr_Ruminahui

First Post
Well, to be fair to us "top downers", from my own game (and what I'm hearing in this thread) isn't that things scale with the PCs, but that PCs go on to tackle greater and more difficult things.

For example, in heroic, a difficult wall might be one with very tightly fit blocks. In paragon, its one where parts of the wall come off with every hand and foot hold. In epic, its made of glass-smooth obsidian lubricated by the distilled misery of millions.

So, if a party were to climb a given tightly fit city wall in the heroic tier, it would be a difficult climb. They come back in paragon, and its an easy climb. They come back in epic, and even the worst character has no need to test.

For me, such an approach prevents a whole lot of faffing about - okay, base 15, with the blocks are tightly fit, so that's a +5, but the rocks are kind of rough -2, and there are vines for another -2, so +1, for a total of 16.

Rather, I can simply decide "okay, its into the palace, so at this level its difficult, which is DC x, and a, b and c are the reasons I tell the player its a tough climb." Which for me lets me focus on the story rather than the math.
 

keterys

First Post
Top down - I want to just play the game, so if I know an easy to difficult range of DCs, I can call it out or decide a die roll as they make it and not sweat the little details of whether they have a -2 cause it rained yesterday or +2 cause they wore good shoes. Having to tote all that stuff up can break immersion for me far more quickly than sweating the details of whether a wall might have been 1 DC easier last level.
 

AllisterH

First Post
Well, to be fair to us "top downers", from my own game (and what I'm hearing in this thread) isn't that things scale with the PCs, but that PCs go on to tackle greater and more difficult things.

For example, in heroic, a difficult wall might be one with very tightly fit blocks. In paragon, its one where parts of the wall come off with every hand and foot hold. In epic, its made of glass-smooth obsidian lubricated by the distilled misery of millions.

So, if a party were to climb a given tightly fit city wall in the heroic tier, it would be a difficult climb. They come back in paragon, and its an easy climb. They come back in epic, and even the worst character has no need to test.

For me, such an approach prevents a whole lot of faffing about - okay, base 15, with the blocks are tightly fit, so that's a +5, but the rocks are kind of rough -2, and there are vines for another -2, so +1, for a total of 16.

Rather, I can simply decide "okay, its into the palace, so at this level its difficult, which is DC x, and a, b and c are the reasons I tell the player its a tough climb." Which for me lets me focus on the story rather than the math.

THIS

I honestly was surprised that so many people think the world "scales" with the PCs or that the DMG actually says this (and I get from the designers themselves comments about them being surprised by this).

Indeed, the DMG explictly warns AGAINST this by noting that if you have a different DC for say "breaking down a door" the DM should mention that the door with the higher DC should be described as being tougher such as having iron bars across it etc.

The assumption 4e works under is that if you;re calling for a DC check, the obstacle is one that should be appropriate for the level of the PC.
 

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