D&D 5E How difficult should Difficulty be?

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
You're PC is in tier 4 with a lovely +11 to a Strength ability check (your considerate DM is allowing your +6 Athletics proficiency bonus to apply to lifting that fallen 20' statue off of your ally! Such a nice DM... :D ).

The task is DC 30, Nearly Impossible (horrible DM! Why a 30!? :mad: ), as the statue weighs several tons.

You need a 19 or 20 to succeed, allowing you just a 10% chance of pulling it off.

But, you're the best you can be! Only those pesky rogues or bards can typically be better (darn expertise!). How can YOU have just a 10% chance. You're a hero, master of the realm, a "superhero" even, if you will...

Disappointed, you roll the d20 and get a 15, missed it by quite a bit. The DM tells you the ally fails a death save automatically (being crushed by a 20-foot statue can do that...).

You try again, an 11! It is getting worse! Another failed death save...

Last chance! An 18!?!? Oh, missed it BY ONE POINT! "Come on, DM, give me a break," you cry out, "I was just one point away!"

The DM grins, "Well, ok, you succeed but with a setback," as he rolls on the Lingering Injury table, "You've suffered internal injuries from the strain, oh, and a level of exhaustion."

So, the above scenario... Even with three attempts, your chances of getting that 19 or 20 is a bit over 27%, or about 73% you will fail. Sure, it is nearly impossible, but you are what you are and it seems a bit harsh.

At lower levels, you really have no chance whatsoever. Now, it might not bother you, personally, that the DCs are so high. But I'm trying to think of any DCs in the game really that high. I mean, off the top of my head, DC 24 or 26 maybe is the highest I think I can remember seeing.

Looking at the other end of the spectrum... a very easy task is DC 5, which barring bonuses means you have a 20% chance of failing it. Again, the DM has the "no progress" and "progress with a setback" instead of "failure", but still...

Does anyone else feel the DCs in some ways are a bit too high? I'm considering a blanket lowering by 5 or something.
 

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James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
You're PC is in tier 4 with a lovely +11 to a Strength ability check (your considerate DM is allowing your +6 Athletics proficiency bonus to apply to lifting that fallen 20' statue off of your ally! Such a nice DM... :D ).

The task is DC 30, Nearly Impossible (horrible DM! Why a 30!? :mad: ), as the statue weighs several tons.

You need a 19 or 20 to succeed, allowing you just a 10% chance of pulling it off.

But, you're the best you can be! Only those pesky rogues or bards can typically be better (darn expertise!). How can YOU have just a 10% chance. You're a hero, master of the realm, a "superhero" even, if you will...

Disappointed, you roll the d20 and get a 15, missed it by quite a bit. The DM tells you the ally fails a death save automatically (being crushed by a 20-foot statue can do that...).

You try again, an 11! It is getting worse! Another failed death save...

Last chance! An 18!?!? Oh, missed it BY ONE POINT! "Come on, DM, give me a break," you cry out, "I was just one point away!"

The DM grins, "Well, ok, you succeed but with a setback," as he rolls on the Lingering Injury table, "You've suffered internal injuries from the strain, oh, and a level of exhaustion."

So, the above scenario... Even with three attempts, your chances of getting that 19 or 20 is a bit over 27%, or about 73% you will fail. Sure, it is nearly impossible, but you are what you are and it seems a bit harsh.

At lower levels, you really have no chance whatsoever. Now, it might not bother you, personally, that the DCs are so high. But I'm trying to think of any DCs in the game really that high. I mean, off the top of my head, DC 24 or 26 maybe is the highest I think I can remember seeing.

Looking at the other end of the spectrum... a very easy task is DC 5, which barring bonuses means you have a 20% chance of failing it. Again, the DM has the "no progress" and "progress with a setback" instead of "failure", but still...

Does anyone else feel the DCs in some ways are a bit too high? I'm considering a blanket lowering by 5 or something.
Oh absolutely. A lot of people will say "but guidance, or advantage is easy, or Bards!", but the reality is, you cannot count on those things. Saying something is impossible is one thing, but setting a DC where you have a 10% chance to succeed is only fun if you succeed, if that make sense.

The other 90% of the time, it's like "well, that sucked". Especially in the scenario you described, where you have a 10% chance of saving an ally's life (or 15%, if you're willing to subject yourself to lingering penalties).

Expertise is an outlier mechanic that I'm not especially thrilled with, but when you ability to "get gud" is so limited, in that it takes many levels to see even marginal increases, I think DC's should be much lower than they are now.

If a 1st level character has a +5 on an ability check, for example, I really don't think DC's of even 15 are fair tests of their ability. You're basically flipping a coin every time you attempt something to see if it happens or not. I know other people will say "how is making things easy fun" and similar lines of thought, but if D&D is heroic fantasy (which I think it is), then having players routinely do incredible things is part of that fantasy.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
LOL, well at least I'm not alone. :)

FWIW, I was thinking about revising the table like this if I don't go with the blanket 5 point reduction:

1658603686353.png


So, in the above example, you would need an 11 or better (50%) to succeed in the nearly impossible task. Someone with expertise would be able to do such things nearly routinely, or like you say:

players routinely do incredible things is part of that fantasy.
 
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Zio_the_dark

The dark one :)
I never use such tables but rather use a freeform for setting DC. I mean evaluate the difficulty of the task for the character attempting the action, get his ability/skill modifier and add a number according to difficulty.

Yes it means DC can vary a little from character to character but this way easy/moderate/hard tasks always get the same failure ratio.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
I never use such tables but rather use a freeform for setting DC. I mean evaluate the difficulty of the task for the character attempting the action, get his ability/skill modifier and add a number according to difficulty.

Yes it means DC can vary a little from character to character but this way easy/moderate/hard tasks always get the same failure ratio.
Such methods have never been my favorite. It means the DC adjust according to who is trying the task. That isn't how the world works IMO, but if it works for you, good enough I suppose.
 


Zio_the_dark

The dark one :)
Of course it's not reality but I don't try to simulate something realistic when I play D&D just approximating.
But it's not that far as I set the DC from the character point of view. A hard task for a level 1 fighter might turn into moderate when leveling up.
You just lose the 5% steps of +1 bonuses and replace it with fixed percentages of success/failure depending on the difficulty. But anyway if a character has bonuses the task is probably easier for him but with my scale the steps are not by 5%.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
You're PC is in tier 4 with a lovely +11 to a Strength ability check (your considerate DM is allowing your +6 Athletics proficiency bonus to apply to lifting that fallen 20' statue off of your ally! Such a nice DM... :D ).

The task is DC 30, Nearly Impossible (horrible DM! Why a 30!? :mad: ), as the statue weighs several tons.

You need a 19 or 20 to succeed, allowing you just a 10% chance of pulling it off.

But, you're the best you can be! Only those pesky rogues or bards can typically be better (darn expertise!). How can YOU have just a 10% chance. You're a hero, master of the realm, a "superhero" even, if you will...

Disappointed, you roll the d20 and get a 15, missed it by quite a bit. The DM tells you the ally fails a death save automatically (being crushed by a 20-foot statue can do that...).

You try again, an 11! It is getting worse! Another failed death save...

Last chance! An 18!?!? Oh, missed it BY ONE POINT! "Come on, DM, give me a break," you cry out, "I was just one point away!"

The DM grins, "Well, ok, you succeed but with a setback," as he rolls on the Lingering Injury table, "You've suffered internal injuries from the strain, oh, and a level of exhaustion."

So, the above scenario... Even with three attempts, your chances of getting that 19 or 20 is a bit over 27%, or about 73% you will fail. Sure, it is nearly impossible, but you are what you are and it seems a bit harsh.

At lower levels, you really have no chance whatsoever. Now, it might not bother you, personally, that the DCs are so high. But I'm trying to think of any DCs in the game really that high. I mean, off the top of my head, DC 24 or 26 maybe is the highest I think I can remember seeing.
That's an incredibly generous referee. No human, no matter how strong could lift that statue. You'd need magic or magical creatures with magical strength. That they didn't simply say no is a testament to their generosity. But that's an awful lot of hoops to go through instead of just telling you to roll a 19-20 on the die. Plus this, minus that, DC this...just roll it.
Looking at the other end of the spectrum... a very easy task is DC 5, which barring bonuses means you have a 20% chance of failing it. Again, the DM has the "no progress" and "progress with a setback" instead of "failure", but still...
That's 20% chance of failing...without any bonuses or modifiers at all. If you have +4 from prof and stats, you cannot fail that roll. At 1st level you get a +2 prof bonus and can have a +3-5 from stats. Just like the above is a long winded way of saying "okay, but roll a nat 20," DC5 checks are the long winded way of saying "okay, but don't roll a 1."
Does anyone else feel the DCs in some ways are a bit too high?
Not me. Nearly impossible should be...nearly impossible. That should be something like a nat 20 no matter your bonuses. The increasing bonuses and increasing DCs are a shell game to disguise that no matter your level, skills, prof bonus, stat modifiers, etc you're asked to roll a 5, 10, 15, or 20 on the die to accomplish tasks. A task that's difficult is a 15 on the d20...not matter your modifiers. But what's difficult for a 1st-level character is different than what's difficult for a 20th-level character. That's what the numbers disguise. You still just need to roll 5, 10, 15, or 20 on the d20. Their numbers go up and your numbers go up...at about the same pace. There's a few cases where an errant +1 or +2 will show up, but it's mostly an illusion.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
You're PC is in tier 4 with a lovely +11 to a Strength ability check (your considerate DM is allowing your +6 Athletics proficiency bonus to apply to lifting that fallen 20' statue off of your ally! Such a nice DM... :D ).

The task is DC 30, Nearly Impossible (horrible DM! Why a 30!? :mad: ), as the statue weighs several tons.

You need a 19 or 20 to succeed, allowing you just a 10% chance of pulling it off.

But, you're the best you can be! Only those pesky rogues or bards can typically be better (darn expertise!). How can YOU have just a 10% chance. You're a hero, master of the realm, a "superhero" even, if you will...
I don’t see the problem. The difficulty is literally called “nearly impossible,” so the best of the best having only a 10% chance of success at it seems perfectly appropriate to me. If they had a higher chance of success, it wouldn’t be nearly impossible, just very difficult.
Disappointed, you roll the d20 and get a 15, missed it by quite a bit. The DM tells you the ally fails a death save automatically (being crushed by a 20-foot statue can do that...).

You try again, an 11! It is getting worse! Another failed death save...

Last chance! An 18!?!? Oh, missed it BY ONE POINT! "Come on, DM, give me a break," you cry out, "I was just one point away!"

The DM grins, "Well, ok, you succeed but with a setback," as he rolls on the Lingering Injury table, "You've suffered internal injuries from the strain, oh, and a level of exhaustion."
Ok, so, this is why I am a staunch advocate of telling the player the DC and any consequences for failure their character could reasonably anticipate before they roll. That way if there is a misalignment of expectations, it gets caught right away and doesn’t turn into a dispute like this. Also, it allows the player to make informed decisions. The character should be able to make a good ballpark assessment of their own capabilities, and reasonably guess that attempting this task is most likely to lead to injuring the ally, and decide to take that calculated risk or not.
So, the above scenario... Even with three attempts, your chances of getting that 19 or 20 is a bit over 27%, or about 73% you will fail. Sure, it is nearly impossible, but you are what you are and it seems a bit harsh.
Again, I don’t think that seems harsh at all for a nearly impossible task. If one wants the task to be more plausible than nearly impossible, one ought to choose a lower DC than the one for nearly impossible tasks.
At lower levels, you really have no chance whatsoever. Now, it might not bother you, personally, that the DCs are so high. But I'm trying to think of any DCs in the game really that high. I mean, off the top of my head, DC 24 or 26 maybe is the highest I think I can remember seeing.
Looking at the other end of the spectrum... a very easy task is DC 5, which barring bonuses means you have a 20% chance of failing it. Again, the DM has the "no progress" and "progress with a setback" instead of "failure", but still...
And indeed, the DMG advises that if the only DCs you ever use are 10, 15, and 20, the game will run just fine. I think DCs outside that range should be reserved for very rare, very exceptional occasions.
Does anyone else feel the DCs in some ways are a bit too high? I'm considering a blanket lowering by 5 or something.
I think the names accurately reflect the difficulty the numbers they are assigned to. If you are finding the DCs are generally too high in your games, lowering them by 5 across the board seems like a reasonable solution, but I don’t think you need to change the names of the difficulty categories.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
You want to make tasks approachable, but your only real metric is "guy who has dump stat, no proficiency" vs. "guy with high stat, proficiency, and possibly expertise".
Sure, your "range" is effectively from -1 to +17 (barring magic)

But, do you really want the dump stat-no proficiency (DSNP) guy to be able to accomplish nearly impossible tasks?

As opposed to your high stat-proficiency-possible expertise (HSPPE) guy, who should be able to do them with at least a reasonable chance of success?

One should, I think, start with the assertion of "what do I think the PC's in my game should be able to do, and how easy or hard it is".
Of course, which leads to my questions above. Each DM will have their own metric of success that they feel works. I feel the default values in the PHB are too high to reflect my metric.

I am fine with the alternate table I posted or the blanket -5.

Using the table values. A very easy is DC 2, which the DSNP guy would fail 10% of the time. Sure, it is very easy, but they have no ability to support the task nor proficiency. Looking at the rest of the task levels (with total modifiers):

1658606036717.png

To me those percentages look about right. A 1st-level PC with Ability 16 and proficiency will likely (80%) succeed at a Medium Task, but a Very Hard task is looking less likely (40%), but they have a reasonable chance (20%) of doing the Nearly Impossible, even at 1st level.

By the time they get to tier 4 (if they get there LOL!), that Nearly Impossible task is 50/50.

Make them the "best of the best" with expertise (if applicable) and you get an astounding 80% for Nearly Impossible tasks! That's HEROIC in my book! :)
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Sure, your "range" is effectively from -1 to +17 (barring magic)

But, do you really want the dump stat-no proficiency (DSNP) guy to be able to accomplish nearly impossible tasks?

As opposed to your high stat-proficiency-possible expertise (HSPPE) guy, who should be able to do them with at least a reasonable chance of success?


Of course, which leads to my questions above. Each DM will have their own metric of success that they feel works. I feel the default values in the PHB are too high to reflect my metric.

I am fine with the alternate table I posted or the blanket -5.

Using the table values. A very easy is DC 2, which the DSNP guy would fail 10% of the time. Sure, it is very easy, but they have no ability to support the task nor proficiency. Looking at the rest of the task levels (with total modifiers):

View attachment 254980
To me those percentages look about right. A 1st-level PC with Ability 16 and proficiency will likely (80%) succeed at a Medium Task, but a Very Hard task is looking less likely (40%), but they have a reasonable chance (20%) of doing the Nearly Impossible, even at 1st level.

By the time they get to tier 4 (if they get there LOL!), that Nearly Impossible task is 50/50.

Make them the "best of the best" with expertise (if applicable) and you get an astounding 80% for Nearly Impossible tasks! That's HEROIC in my book! :)
I don’t think a task that anyone has a 50% chance or better of succeeding at can accurately be described as “nearly impossible.”
 
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DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
At 1st level you get a +2 prof bonus and can have a +3-5 from stats. Just like the above is a long winded way of saying "okay, but roll a nat 20," DC5 checks are the long winded way of saying "okay, but don't roll a 1."
Nearly impossible should be...nearly impossible.
The difficulty is literally called “nearly impossible,” so the best of the best having only a 10% chance of success at it seems perfectly appropriate to me. If they had a higher chance of success, it wouldn’t be nearly impossible, just very difficult.
I don’t think a task that anyone has a 50% chance or better of succeeding at can
Accurately be described as “nearly impossible.”

See, here's the thing:

Nearly impossible is a task. If it is Nearly Impossible for a level 1 PC, it shouldn't be as hard for a level 20 PC.

At DC 30, Nearly Impossible isn't Nearly Impossible for the vast majority of creatures in the world, it is IMPOSSIBLE. Even rolling a 20 would be a failure and you can't do any better.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
See, here's the thing:

Nearly impossible is a task. If it is Nearly Impossible for a level 1 PC, it shouldn't be as hard for a level 20 PC.

At DC 30, Nearly Impossible isn't Nearly Impossible for the vast majority of creatures in the world, it is IMPOSSIBLE. Even rolling a 20 would be a failure and you can't do any better.
The difficulty category isn’t called “nearly impossible for a first level character,” it’s called “nearly impossible.” The fact that it’s possible for any character is what makes it nearly impossible, instead of just impossible.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Frankly though, what you call the difficulty categories doesn’t really matter. The important thing is, what range of DCs do you typically use. Again, the DMG advises that if the only DCs you ever use are 10, 15, and 20, the game will play out fine. So, whatever names you need to use for the DCs to make it feel appropriate to you that those three be the ones the PCs most typically encounter, go with that.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
A point some people seem to be missing is this:

You never see a DC that high. I've never encountered anything about DC 24, and I think 26 is the highest I've seen in a book.

And it goes back to what @James Gasik said:
but if D&D is heroic fantasy (which I think it is), then having players routinely do incredible things is part of that fantasy.

If your PCs fails more often than not at a hard or very hard task, how "heroic" does that feel?
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Frankly though, what you call the difficulty categories doesn’t really matter. The important thing is, what range of DCs do you typically use. Again, the DMG advises that if the only DCs you ever use are 10, 15, and 20, the game will play out fine. So, whatever names you need to use for those DCs to make it feel appropriate to you that they be the most typical DCs for the players to encounter, go with that.
Valid point. :)
 

Stalker0

Legend
I have the exact opposite problem, for me DC 30 is far too easy. Over multiple campaigns my players always find ways to jack up their checks around 5th or 6th level.

I consider DC 30 less nearly impossible and more “rare but doable”.

To me DC 35 is the true “nearly impossible”
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
I have the exact opposite problem, for me DC 30 is far too easy. Over multiple campaigns my players always find ways to jack up their checks around 5th or 6th level.

I consider DC 30 less nearly impossible and more “rare but doable”.

To me DC 35 is the true “nearly impossible”
Really? How do they do that. Abusing guidance gets you an average +2 or 3, what else is there??
 


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