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D&D 5E How is 5E like 4E?

Nah, at best it's (ie^4.5)%. I mean, if we're to be using imaginary numbers, I find this formulation much more interesting in general.

I don't disagree, though, that there's quite a lot of this going on. The system isn't written that way. I'll be absolutely glad to accept that we should engage with it this way -- according to those that are not attempting to follow the recommendations of the system but playing it according to what they know -- if we do the same thing for 4e. Arguing that 5e needs to be defined by those that aren't following it's guidance while advocating 4e run correctly is bad pool.
I think there's a huge difference in that 4e was/is VASTLY more transparent about what it is doing. I mean, your average 4e GM doesn't even have to think about it, really, it just happens! They follow the books and other material, so the fiction progresses (you can see this even in the much-maligned HPE module series pretty plainly). As the fiction progresses, the DCs also progress in kind. If you make up your own material, you clearly know what sorts of things are Heroic, Paragon, or Epic kinds of elements, and they appear in your adventures as long as you follow basic encounter building procedure.

Now, I think 5e sort of manages that with combat encounters. Its CR system is MUCH less reliable than 4e's level/XP budget process, but surely GMs mostly grok that goblins are things that challenge low level PCs and big dragons challenge high level PCs. However, outside of that? I don't know anything that really naturally puts you on track. If you read the DMG, more carefully than a lot of GMs apparently do, then you are informed, once or twice in a couple of descriptive non-mechanical paragraphs, that DCs should be set to fit with both the fiction and the level of desired challenge. If you followed that exactly, you'd get 5e's rough equivalent of 4e's 'treadmill', but then nothing, not even the intro adventures, manage to do that.

So, no, I don't think it is dirty pool at all. The natural outcome of 'just doing whatever' in 4e is it works as-designed, and the natural outcome of 'just doing whatever' in 5e is that it doesn't.
Works just fine at my table. I suppose I'm not doing it right? Let's stick with only considering how people not following the system play as definitional of the system.
Nobody said anything about "doing it wrong", that's not needed. You and I are, I daresay, members of a fairly exclusive club of GMs who practice running games as an art and a science, and take the time to study it as an activity and develop our technique. As @Morrus has pointed, something like <1% of his traffic comes from these boards. Judging anything by you and I anyone else who will ever even realize this thread exists is not even scratching the surface of what actual GMs in the wild do. My speculation on that may be speculation, but I think it is at least informed speculation.
The modules have an interesting problem -- they need to present a complete enough adventure with good enough guidance to sell. This is hard to do with the guidance that puts everything in the moment. That said, I do find this frustrating, even if I understand why they have done so -- it's to make money. I can't really argue with that. Purity for system is great, but not if you need food.
Sure, so then why build a system which requires you to undermine its core advice to sell modules? I mean, OK, that wasn't an INTENDED result of the design. So it seems like a flaw, to me at least IMHO.
I have no idea what you mean by valance of a check.
'Valence' I have been using as a way to describe the significance or 'weight' of a check result (and thus of the entire ability check process in a given specific fictional context). Maybe that is a bit off from its traditional meaning, but not too far. I'm a chemist by education, where the term relates to the 'power' of an element to form bonds (react, I don't want to get technical). In how I used it I mean its significance to the fiction. So, a check with high valence would have a lot of 'fictional weight', success would clearly contribute heavily to steering things in your favor, failure would clearly contribute heavily to steering things in your disfavor (again, lets not dissect that too much). 5e ability checks lack a set valence because they don't exist within any mechanical framework beyond the GM can call for them, and the GM can decide the DC, and then the GM makes up something that happens next. They are almost advisory, actually. Contrast this with 4e in which a check has a specific 'weight' in the context of an SC (outside SCs free checks are more like 5e checks, which IMHO is an area where 4e falls a bit short, though there are other non-SC subsystems which mitigate this a bit).
The DC spread, according to guidance, will almost always be 10-20. Going outside of this is like selecting a much higher level monster in 4e, like +8 -- something you do for good reasons. The result is that a player succeeds or fails, with failure having a consequence. Yes, 5e is vague on this, but I take success to mean just that -- not a lamed success or one immediately reversed. It is success. Does 4e have better guidance on this? Yep. Does that mean 5e is non-viable? Goodness, no. If you read it straight and don't try to twist it, it works just fine as presented and does a pretty good job.
I think I've pretty much addressed all of this above. This is all very much like an 'Any Good Scottsman' sort of argument. One might almost call it an Oberoni on 5e. I grant you, the same issue has affected most 'traditional' RPGs since time immemorial (I can just barely remember it anyway). That doesn't make it any less of an issue!
Bolded -- they are not. If they are, why is there a chart in the rules giving DC?! DCs are based on the chart. Good practice is to make sure your fiction aligns with those DCs, but the setting of a DC is not based on the fiction, because the DC range is set before your game even starts. Instead, your fiction is set up to give those DCs support in play.
I still beg to differ, and I addressed this in another post. The fiction is the fiction. An increasing set of DCs is simply there to provide the average GM with the mechanical 'ramp' to make it all 'just work'. From Day One of D&D the game has been designed to enable and support that fiction. Low level PCs are starting characters who deal with more 'gritty' and less 'fantastical' fictions, or at least fictions that operate on a local scale and involve stakes like "my village needs this medicine" or something. High level PCs are experienced characters who deal with more fantastical and/or issues of greater scope and wider import "I must destroy the Throne of Bone or else the skeleton armies of Bad Guy will overrun the whole world!" Increasing DCs simply implement this progression. In theory you could play without any change in fiction and still have increasing DCs, but that is plainly not intended, so the fiction must be the primary POINT of this, right?
What requires a check is going to be based on the fiction, which is what I think you're going for, here. The goal of a skill challenge, the action that triggers a check, yes, but the DC? You pick it from a chart. This is the same for 5e. The difference is in how DCs are set. And it's really not all that different here -- the GM picks easy, medium, or hard. The 4e GM also select a level, which is necessary because you need to know where you are on the treadmill. The 5e treadmill is broken -- it stays in the same place, so this step isn't necessary.
I think I've already adequately stated my arguments for why scaling DCs are a good design.
I don't think it's a terrible misconception at all. It's what the rules suggest -- there's a chart! That you've adopted a good approach that makes sure that you understand the need to up the fiction to match the DC range is cool, but you're still getting the DCs from that range, and have made your choices for the available range prior to crafting the fiction.
Well, this is sort of a game design tautology here. There's no need for each GM to craft their own DC progression, that would be rather silly. So, yes, the game provides a chart which gives a set of DCs at various levels, and then it provides (at last count) FIVE entire books full of monsters (and plenty of additional ones elsewhere) which actualize the fiction for each of these levels, as well as many sections of DMGs and other books which describe the kinds of fictional elements which are typically expected to appear in each tier/level range.
You said so yourself, above, that you need to send the PCs to Tartarus when they're of a level that challenge DC need that fiction. Cool! I agree.
I still don't put it that way, or think of it that way. I think of Tartarus as a thematic element related to the Epic Tier, a part of the game's progression in which PCs undertake adventures and face challenges of a HIGHLY fantastical nature. In D&D's (with 4e having its particular spin on this) milieu these are often hostile extra-planar locations, like Tartarus as a fairly stock example. So, the fictional story would progress to that kind of location, and then, yes, naturally it would make sense to portray enormously hazardous (in a fictional sense) elements there which will sufficiently warrant their level-appropriate DCs. Now, the DC progression could have been different, and I agree that the exact numbers stem from a mechanical progression, they aren't inherently significant, except that they insure that the mechanics mirrors the fictional depiction of 'Tartarus' as "a place where ordinary mortals dare not tread." This is the sort of place Epic Adventures are made for!
 

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pemerton

Legend
So people want detailed descriptions for every DC?
Which system?

Burning Wheel has this: lots of difficulties listed for many if not all skills. Any table is of course free to depart from them (and there are some differences between editions, and my charts don't draw exclusively on Revised or Gold but rather straddle the two), but they provide a basic "picture" of a setting.

But I don't think such a thing would be useful for 4e. BW does not need a particular success/failure rate to drive its gameplay; it has other devices for that. But 4e works best when the maths is properly aligned (hence the adjustments to the maths over the lifetime of the edition) and this means that good DC-by-level charts are important, and these are correlated with fiction moment-by-moment to build up the table's sense of what the different tiers of play mean (as per my quote from @LostSoul upthread).

A concreate example: at the high end of Epic Tier one of the players in my 4e game succeeded on a DC 41 Arcana check to seal the Abyss. This was a Hard check at level 29.

Now it's possible for a Heroic tier PC to have a +21 Arcana bonus - eg +6 from a stat of 22, +8 from proficiency and focus, +2 from an item, +2 from race, +2 from background or theme, and +1 from some other sundry bonus. That doesn't mean that, on a roll of 20 giving a total of 41, that PC could seal the Abyss. Such a feat is simply not within the scope of fictional possibilities for a Heroic tier PC. This is what I mean when I say that, in 4e at least as I understand and approach it, the fiction - based on the table's shared understanding of what is possible for PCs of a given tier - comes first, and then mechanics are used to ensure the numbers that are assigned are appropriate for the gameplay. So in the case of sealing the Abyss, it is possible for a level 29 PC to do it, but definitely Hard - hence the DC is 41.

The parts of 4e that use fixed DCs are largely broken messes that are legacies of 3e in a system that should have shed that.
I generally agree with this. Where I disagree is in the Athletics rules for jumping in combat - which establish an at-will baseline against which other abilities are to be measured - and the Perception vs Stealth checks for dealing with hiding and invisibility in combat. But for foraging and the like, it is the skill challenge maths that is important and those charts in the PHB are just a distraction. (Here I disagree with @Neonchameleon.)

why is there a chart in the rules giving DC?! DCs are based on the chart. Good practice is to make sure your fiction aligns with those DCs, but the setting of a DC is not based on the fiction, because the DC range is set before your game even starts. Instead, your fiction is set up to give those DCs support in play.
DC wasn't about the fiction as is but rather the fiction as desired, and so if pacing was desired, DCs were selected for this goal, not for anything in the fiction. I'm still not sure subjective vs objective is a good term for this -- perhaps grounded and ungrounded? You approach is not well grounded in the fiction or the action, it's whatever it needs to be and the fiction catches up
The second of these quotes is in my view more accurate than the first as a description of how (what I am calling) a system of "subjective" difficulties works (eg 4e as I understand it, HeroQuest revised, Marvel Heroic RP, also Agon and even Apocalypse World insofar as these have few or no modifiers to reflect circumstantial difficulty, outsourcing all that to the narration of framing and consequence). The fiction takes care of itself - we have a table understanding of what is possible at a given level/tier - and DCs are set by reference to the level-appropriate charts (whether for skills, or monsters, in the latter case having regard to the possibility of higher level monsters for various purposes and in the former case having regard to Easy, Medium and Hard checks as well as different complexities of skill challenge).

There are long lists of traps, creatures, terrain and architectural features, etc with numbers assigned, but these are (in my view) just guides: they give you some default fiction for your level/tier. Departing from them - eg 12th level non-minion bugbears, an iron door that is DC 30 (ie moderate level 27) rather than DC 25 (DMG p 64) to break down, etc - won't cause any problems as long as no one balks at the aesthetic result (eg a bugbear that is a meaningful challenge to a paragon tier PC; a metal door that a demigod cannot bust through without effort; etc).

The first of the two quotes is correct to say that, on the approach I'm describing, the setting of a DC is not based on the fiction but is not really correct to say that good practice is to make sure your fiction aligns with those DCs as there is no "alignment" beyond the fact that no one at the table balks at the scene as framed, nor finds the resolution contrived or threatening to verisimilitude. I think this is a difference from 5e, where if climbing the mountain with pitons and robe was deemed DC 15 last session then one would expect it to be the same this session: at least as I understand it, 5e DCs are meant to correlate to the fiction in a consistent way. Likewise the difference between a monster with 50 hp and +6 to hit and one with 80 hp and +7 to hit is expected to be noticeable in the fiction. The idea of the maths purely as a pacing/gameplay device is not part of the 5e approach, as best I understand it. Again, this is what I am getting at via the terminology of "objective" vs "subjective" DCs. And in this respect I see 5e as being like BW, Classic Traveller and AD&D. (And probably 3E too, but 3E is weird enough to me at least that I don't really know what sense to make of its difficulty rules.)
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Which system?

Burning Wheel has this: lots of difficulties listed for many if not all skills. Any table is of course free to depart from them (and there are some differences between editions, and my charts don't draw exclusively on Revised or Gold but rather straddle the two), but they provide a basic "picture" of a setting.

But I don't think such a thing would be useful for 4e. BW does not need a particular success/failure rate to drive its gameplay; it has other devices for that. But 4e works best when the maths is properly aligned (hence the adjustments to the maths over the lifetime of the edition) and this means that good DC-by-level charts are important, and these are correlated with fiction moment-by-moment to build up the table's sense of what the different tiers of play mean (as per my quote from @LostSoul upthread).

A concreate example: at the high end of Epic Tier one of the players in my 4e game succeeded on a DC 41 Arcana check to seal the Abyss. This was a Hard check at level 29.

Now it's possible for a Heroic tier PC to have a +21 Arcana bonus - eg +6 from a stat of 22, +8 from proficiency and focus, +2 from an item, +2 from race, +2 from background or theme, and +1 from some other sundry bonus. That doesn't mean that, on a roll of 20 giving a total of 41, that PC could seal the Abyss. Such a feat is simply not within the scope of fictional possibilities for a Heroic tier PC. This is what I mean when I say that, in 4e at least as I understand and approach it, the fiction - based on the table's shared understanding of what is possible for PCs of a given tier - comes first, and then mechanics are used to ensure the numbers that are assigned are appropriate for the gameplay. So in the case of sealing the Abyss, it is possible for a level 29 PC to do it, but definitely Hard - hence the DC is 41.

I generally agree with this. Where I disagree is in the Athletics rules for jumping in combat - which establish an at-will baseline against which other abilities are to be measured - and the Perception vs Stealth checks for dealing with hiding and invisibility in combat. But for foraging and the like, it is the skill challenge maths that is important and those charts in the PHB are just a distraction. (Here I disagree with @Neonchameleon.)


The second of these quotes is in my view more accurate than the first as a description of how (what I am calling) a system of "subjective" difficulties works (eg 4e as I understand it, HeroQuest revised, Marvel Heroic RP, also Agon and even Apocalypse World insofar as these have few or no modifiers to reflect circumstantial difficulty, outsourcing all that to the narration of framing and consequence). The fiction takes care of itself - we have a table understanding of what is possible at a given level/tier - and DCs are set by reference to the level-appropriate charts (whether for skills, or monsters, in the latter case having regard to the possibility of higher level monsters for various purposes and in the former case having regard to Easy, Medium and Hard checks as well as different complexities of skill challenge).
You've just described what I meant, though. That the fiction follows the DC, the DC doesn't follow the fiction.
There are long lists of traps, creatures, terrain and architectural features, etc with numbers assigned, but these are (in my view) just guides: they give you some default fiction for your level/tier. Departing from them - eg 12th level non-minion bugbears, an iron door that is DC 30 (ie moderate level 27) rather than DC 25 (DMG p 64) to break down, etc - won't cause any problems as long as no one balks at the aesthetic result (eg a bugbear that is a meaningful challenge to a paragon tier PC; a metal door that a demigod cannot bust through without effort; etc).

The first of the two quotes is correct to say that, on the approach I'm describing, the setting of a DC is not based on the fiction but is not really correct to say that good practice is to make sure your fiction aligns with those DCs as there is no "alignment" beyond the fact that no one at the table balks at the scene as framed, nor finds the resolution contrived or threatening to verisimilitude. I think this is a difference from 5e, where if climbing the mountain with pitons and robe was deemed DC 15 last session then one would expect it to be the same this session: at least as I understand it, 5e DCs are meant to correlate to the fiction in a consistent way. Likewise the difference between a monster with 50 hp and +6 to hit and one with 80 hp and +7 to hit is expected to be noticeable in the fiction. The idea of the maths purely as a pacing/gameplay device is not part of the 5e approach, as best I understand it. Again, this is what I am getting at via the terminology of "objective" vs "subjective" DCs. And in this respect I see 5e as being like BW, Classic Traveller and AD&D. (And probably 3E too, but 3E is weird enough to me at least that I don't really know what sense to make of its difficulty rules.)
I'm not sure I agree with your last example. If, in 4e, you climb a wall and the DC is X, and then later, you climb the exact same wall in exactly the same way, but the DC is now Y, I think there would be issues. Unless your assumption is that climbing any way with piton is DC 15? In which case, no, I don't agree with this at all. The fictional positioning for different walls will be different, so the DC will alter to reflect that. The only way I could see a player being upset at a different DC would be if it was the same wall and nothing else was different as well. But, even gaining a few levels can impact that in 5e, as the GM may feel that this challenge has moved down in tier, or that prior experience with it lends itself to making it easier.

I feel that we do not disagree in the broad scope, but that our examples are raising conflict due to assumptions about 5e play that don't align with my understanding of it. Your larger points are good, though. I still dislike the terminology you've selected, because I'm not being objective when setting DCs for 5e -- it's entirely my interpretation of things. The same situation can get different DCs from different 5e GMs. I don't really see that as objective, so I dislike the term. It's grounded in the fiction, though, in that whatever heuristic a 5e GM is using should treat similar situations similarly, but this doesn't mean there's an objective tie, just consistency. Your approach to 4e eschews this consistency outside the level/difficulty bands (it's consistent within them) so I definitely see a difference.
 


It's hardly just athletics.
Just to add a bit on this:
4e does not have any rules where it says "It is a DCX check to Jump N squares" or something like that. It has rules which say "If you make a Jump check (Athletics) and you get a 12, here's how many squares you jumped across." I mean, in many situations this may be roughly equivalent. OTOH it is establishing a fictional capability based on level (and other things). A level 1 PC with, say, a 16 STR (+3) and Athletics Proficiency (+5), will always get at least an 8, which is running long jump distance of 1 square (1.6 squares, or exactly 8 feet if you want to get that detailed, though in combat the extra bit won't likely matter). On average this character will jump 18 feet (3+ squares), and can hit a max of 28 feet (5+ squares). The same character, at 30th level would add AT LEAST +16 to that, averaging 34 feet, well beyond the current world record for the long jump (29 feet IIRC) and maxing out at a physically impossible 44 feet!

Obviously if you just need to jump a 10' gap, then the level 1 guy succeeded on a 3, and the level 30 guy just crosses without any comment at all. Still, these are direct specific FICTIONAL parameters mapping character ability to specific fiction. Likewise the 'Monster Knowledge Check' and general 'Knowledge Check' rules also have something of this character, providing a graded set of revelations on a topic based on how much the check exceeds a baseline DC in effect.

None of these numbers is really SUBJECTIVE, they are objectively determined by reference to the fiction and in the case of knowledge checks going from there to a level/tier to get a baseline DC. Likewise the DMG's 'door breaking' DCs, and general 'item damage' DCs, which relate specific fictions to the DC system, and thus pin them to a general level/tier of challenge.

Now, in other places, I've speculated that a GM could pretty easily alter some of this scaling in order to modify the genre feel of higher level play. For example you could fictionally allow characters of Epic levels to make 'mighty leaps' or take 'Air Steps' in Wire Fu fashion or whatnot. You would simply alter the expected outcomes of using skills like Athletics at those levels. The exact details are left as an exercise, but you could have Epic Heroes lifting hills, carving out valleys, drinking lakes, whatever you want. Worst case scenario you'd step on the toes of some high level rituals and whatnot that already provide a more limited gateway into those sorts of things (though they are not really all that prevalent in 4e). I'd also say that probably some things like that might WANT to be so gated. For a great example there is the Thief of Legend Epic Destiny, one of my favorite all-time 4e elements. I figure stealing love itself is probably more than a skill check, even at level 30, regardless of how fantastical you get...
 

MwaO

Adventurer
I'm not sure I agree with your last example. If, in 4e, you climb a wall and the DC is X, and then later, you climb the exact same wall in exactly the same way, but the DC is now Y, I think there would be issues.

This should never happen in 4e. Ever. If it does, it is the adventure writer making a mistake or for some reason, the fiction has changed and the DM missed it. Or as an example, it is part of a skill challenge and in one run of the adventure, it is say a 6th level party and in another, it is an 8th level party.

And because skill challenges are supposed to be in a sense, an extra combat, the DCs need to adjust to the level of the party, just as any combat would.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think there's a huge difference in that 4e was/is VASTLY more transparent about what it is doing. I mean, your average 4e GM doesn't even have to think about it, really, it just happens! They follow the books and other material, so the fiction progresses (you can see this even in the much-maligned HPE module series pretty plainly). As the fiction progresses, the DCs also progress in kind. If you make up your own material, you clearly know what sorts of things are Heroic, Paragon, or Epic kinds of elements, and they appear in your adventures as long as you follow basic encounter building procedure.

Now, I think 5e sort of manages that with combat encounters. Its CR system is MUCH less reliable than 4e's level/XP budget process, but surely GMs mostly grok that goblins are things that challenge low level PCs and big dragons challenge high level PCs. However, outside of that? I don't know anything that really naturally puts you on track. If you read the DMG, more carefully than a lot of GMs apparently do, then you are informed, once or twice in a couple of descriptive non-mechanical paragraphs, that DCs should be set to fit with both the fiction and the level of desired challenge. If you followed that exactly, you'd get 5e's rough equivalent of 4e's 'treadmill', but then nothing, not even the intro adventures, manage to do that.

So, no, I don't think it is dirty pool at all. The natural outcome of 'just doing whatever' in 4e is it works as-designed, and the natural outcome of 'just doing whatever' in 5e is that it doesn't.
I don't think 4e is vastly more transparent, it just has clearer instructions. 5e blurred those, intentionally, to allow for more GM arbitrary inputs. However, the math at the bottom is still pretty similar in impact, and the guidance in 5e exists. That many choose to assume they know how it works isn't a problem with the system. The claim you're making is that lots of people choose to play Monopoly where Free Parking is a winning lottery ticket versus a dead space means that Monopoly's rules are worse than Risk's rules, because most people play Risk according to the rules. This is in error, though, because there's a lot of people that play Risk and ignore the cards because they don't grok how they work and then complain Risk takes too long to play, like Monopoly.

The upshot here is that you're claiming a base of GMs running 4e and doing so properly as a baseline. What you're ignoring is that there's a large plurality who tried 4e and didn't make it work, and quit playing it. Many complained vociferously about it, and made arguments that don't make sense because they failed to grok what you're saying just works. It didn't just work, you still have to make it work. The difference between 4e and 5e is that 4e failed to work if you tried to play it as a different game, but 5e is more forgiving and still mostly works if played in a manner similar to a previous edition. What it doesn't do when played that way is support my argument that the math of 4e actually replicates, on average, the no progression mode that 5e starts with.
Nobody said anything about "doing it wrong", that's not needed. You and I are, I daresay, members of a fairly exclusive club of GMs who practice running games as an art and a science, and take the time to study it as an activity and develop our technique. As @Morrus has pointed, something like <1% of his traffic comes from these boards. Judging anything by you and I anyone else who will ever even realize this thread exists is not even scratching the surface of what actual GMs in the wild do. My speculation on that may be speculation, but I think it is at least informed speculation.
I'm not that special. I learned to play 5e this way BEFORE I began to really get into how games work. It was a step in that direction, but the claim that it's because I am a keen student of how games work is incorrect at the time I learned how to run 5e. Iserith is a champion of the approach I'm suggesting, and he's actively hostile some styles of other games, showing a complete lack of understanding in how they do things. He's blocked me for pointing out a flawed argument he was making about other games and how they work. So, no, it doesn't require a special study of games to make 5e work as the guidance suggests. It requires reading the rules and following them.
Sure, so then why build a system which requires you to undermine its core advice to sell modules? I mean, OK, that wasn't an INTENDED result of the design. So it seems like a flaw, to me at least IMHO.
Yup, no argument, I find it frustrating. However, 5e is loose enough by NOT being explicit on it's design principles that they can do this an most people don't notice. You can call that a flaw, but, to me, it reads as a happy accident.
'Valence' I have been using as a way to describe the significance or 'weight' of a check result (and thus of the entire ability check process in a given specific fictional context). Maybe that is a bit off from its traditional meaning, but not too far. I'm a chemist by education, where the term relates to the 'power' of an element to form bonds (react, I don't want to get technical). In how I used it I mean its significance to the fiction. So, a check with high valence would have a lot of 'fictional weight', success would clearly contribute heavily to steering things in your favor, failure would clearly contribute heavily to steering things in your disfavor (again, lets not dissect that too much). 5e ability checks lack a set valence because they don't exist within any mechanical framework beyond the GM can call for them, and the GM can decide the DC, and then the GM makes up something that happens next. They are almost advisory, actually. Contrast this with 4e in which a check has a specific 'weight' in the context of an SC (outside SCs free checks are more like 5e checks, which IMHO is an area where 4e falls a bit short, though there are other non-SC subsystems which mitigate this a bit).
I agree with this, but 4e checks outside of skill challenges have the same situation. It's only using the skill challenge, which is orthogonal to my point about the maths, that this is true. So, pointing it out doesn't really advance any counterargument to my points, because I'm not arguing that 4e doesn't have the skill challenges system that puts more weight on outcomes than anything in 5e. It does. This doesn't affect my arguments that there's little difference between the neglected skill in 4e and the neglected skill in 5e in relation to actual chance of success over the course of a campaign -- it's pretty flat. You have to average 4e DCs to see it, because of the level ranges, but the general course is that you stay in exactly the same place for anything that matters.
I think I've pretty much addressed all of this above. This is all very much like an 'Any Good Scottsman' sort of argument. One might almost call it an Oberoni on 5e. I grant you, the same issue has affected most 'traditional' RPGs since time immemorial (I can just barely remember it anyway). That doesn't make it any less of an issue!
Huh. Follow the guidance and it works way X gets met with an accusation of Oberoni, which is specifically that you can houserule any problems away, so there's no problem. I mean, the only thing I can see here is a terrible use of bad logic to attempt to dismiss an argument not by counterargument but by smearing it and creating a strawman. This is absolutely bad pool.

As I just wrote above, your valence argument doesn't even touch my point, because my point isn't about the causal weight of a check, but about the math of bonus vs DC. You're off target. The meat of it is that, going by on-level only, the DC for an easy task rises exactly as fast as the baseline level bonus that is all a neglected skill gets. Thus, you're always at the same point. The counter to this was that levels can be varied, so the DC varies, but this is a failed argument as well. Either you're mixing it up pretty evenly, in which case the average is still on-level and there's no real improvement for neglected skills, or you're consistently weighted lower or higher (ie, the average of used levels is above or below on level), and so, over time, you're still standing in the same place, just slightly easier or harder than on-level. This means that if you neglect a skill, your odds of success remain the same for whatever it is you're actually doing in the game, because you are not facing far below station challenges, but only slightly below and then in about the same incidence rate as slightly above (which is a harder DC). The actual play ensures you do not see any improvement in ability. It's only a white room example of a far below level that this exists, but it doesn't exist in game. 5e has the same impact, it just got rid of the treadmill and lowered the overall gonzo factor.
I still beg to differ, and I addressed this in another post. The fiction is the fiction. An increasing set of DCs is simply there to provide the average GM with the mechanical 'ramp' to make it all 'just work'. From Day One of D&D the game has been designed to enable and support that fiction. Low level PCs are starting characters who deal with more 'gritty' and less 'fantastical' fictions, or at least fictions that operate on a local scale and involve stakes like "my village needs this medicine" or something. High level PCs are experienced characters who deal with more fantastical and/or issues of greater scope and wider import "I must destroy the Throne of Bone or else the skeleton armies of Bad Guy will overrun the whole world!" Increasing DCs simply implement this progression. In theory you could play without any change in fiction and still have increasing DCs, but that is plainly not intended, so the fiction must be the primary POINT of this, right?
The fiction increases because the DC does. The DC does not increase because the fiction does. This is apparent -- change the chart to a different progression and you'll have to alter the fiction you're using. If you change your fiction first, it now no longer aligns with the chart, and the players will be seeing DCs outside of the range suggested by the fiction.

Also, there's my conversation with @pemerton that clearly suggests his approach is to only make sure the tier is represented in the fiction, actual DCs are selected due to pacing or challenge concerns. They only need align to the fiction enough that they aren't glaringly inappropriate.
I think I've already adequately stated my arguments for why scaling DCs are a good design.
I don't agree -- it's a design, and can be good, but scaling is neither necessary nor sufficient to good design.
Well, this is sort of a game design tautology here. There's no need for each GM to craft their own DC progression, that would be rather silly. So, yes, the game provides a chart which gives a set of DCs at various levels, and then it provides (at last count) FIVE entire books full of monsters (and plenty of additional ones elsewhere) which actualize the fiction for each of these levels, as well as many sections of DMGs and other books which describe the kinds of fictional elements which are typically expected to appear in each tier/level range.
Goodness, no other D&D games has provided different threat monsters. Truly an innovation! /snark

I do not follow this line of argument. You're right because the game has monster manuals with leveled monsters? How does that help set the fiction for scaling a wall?
I still don't put it that way, or think of it that way. I think of Tartarus as a thematic element related to the Epic Tier, a part of the game's progression in which PCs undertake adventures and face challenges of a HIGHLY fantastical nature. In D&D's (with 4e having its particular spin on this) milieu these are often hostile extra-planar locations, like Tartarus as a fairly stock example. So, the fictional story would progress to that kind of location, and then, yes, naturally it would make sense to portray enormously hazardous (in a fictional sense) elements there which will sufficiently warrant their level-appropriate DCs. Now, the DC progression could have been different, and I agree that the exact numbers stem from a mechanical progression, they aren't inherently significant, except that they insure that the mechanics mirrors the fictional depiction of 'Tartarus' as "a place where ordinary mortals dare not tread." This is the sort of place Epic Adventures are made for!
Great! Here's the thing. Bob the Ignores Climbing Skills Man has exactly the same chance to scale the loose scree slope of gentleness at 1st level (an easy challenge, DC 8) as he does to scale the cliffs of Tartarus at 30th (DC 24) for "reasons." Nifty. It looks like Bob has gotten better, but, in reality, Bob is on a treadmill and will never, as I've been told multiple times, ever even have to roll to climb the loose scree slope of gentleness. It's a non-issue now. But, when I say that 5e lets the GM determine this, I get met with disbelieve -- there's no way 5e suggests doing this! But, it does, because the guidance is to consider if the task is uncertain, and, if so, has a consequence for failure. Bob in 5e, at 20th level, faces no consequence of note from the loose scree slope of gentleness, and the climb up the cliffs of Tartarus can be an easy task in 5e as well with the right approach. So, Bob in 5e has the same chances as well. This is my point -- there's nothing about the monotonous increase in baseline numbers in 4e, because, in play, it just keeps you in the same place against the math increase, at the easy end. The hard end, though, is a different matter. If the tasks to climb above are hard instead of easy, Bob the 4e character will never climb the cliffs of Tartarus -- he cannot make the check. For Bob in 5e, he still has a chance at it.

What does this mean? Is 4e or 5e better? Nothing and neither. They are different. I'm here because there was a claim that 4e's level bonus shows characters improving across the board, but it really doesn't (outside of fixed DC skill uses, which are the worst part of 4e's skill system). I like both systems. I prefer 4e, outside of a few glaring issues (fixed DCs get the hairy eyeball), but have no interest in fixing it myself because there are lots of other games that don't do this. I play 5e because my friends enjoy it and I like it perfectly well enough. I absolutely bash on 5e -- there's lots of threads where I'm the bad guy because I don't sugercoat 5e. I see no point in it. But, similarly, I'm not going to say it's bad on things where I don't think that's warranted, nor will I give 4e a pass. The skill treadmill is a real thing, and it's important to how the system functions, and acknowledging it doesn't make the system any worse or not work anymore. It's just how it works.
 

You don't think this is what happens in 4e? The very chart in 4e is built, from the start, that Easy checks are not able to be failed by focused characters. Easy checks NEVER get easier for neglected skills. In 5e, the focused character CAN fail at the start of their career, but can't really fail easy, even medium checks (depending on expertise) at the end. The neglected skills stay the same. Meanwhile, in 4e, neglected skills get priced out of hard checks relatively quickly.

You're making an argument but half of it is based in not actually looking at how 4e does things with it's math! If you neglect a skill in 4e, you're in the same pile of suck as you are if you do it in 5e. If you focus on a skill, you get to the point that most DCs don't matter to you in both. What you're describing is getting bonuses outside of the class structure in 5e, which are all either teamwork assists (bardic inspiration, guidance) or are granted by the GM (boons, magic items, etc). For 4e, these are priced in -- another difference.

I disagree with your odd false dichotomy, here. I think 4e's a fine game. I'm not trying to say it's bad or anything, I'm saying that the idea that 4e's +1/2 level bonus actually represents character improvement and 5e doesn't have this. The reality is that the way 4e progresses DCs, this bonus is moot -- it's the baseline movement of DCs as well. With this, if you look at how 5e does it, it's pretty much the same -- they skip the treadmill of +1/2 level to both skills and DCs, but the spread is the same.

As for ignoring everything about skills, I'm not sure what you mean. Almost all the skill descriptions say the GM will set the DC. The advice to the GM is to use the chart to help set DCs. The only real differences are the athletics skills, which, for some reason, stick to the 3e era fixed DCs.

Yes, they do. If I want to forage with skills that allow it (Nature, Dungeoneering), I need a 15 for myself or a 25 for 2-5 people. The GM can modify this +/- 5 based on the environment. Of course, this suggests that I can forage for my entire party, finding food and water for the day, in the most desolate parts of the Elemental Plane of Parched Dryness on a 30. Which I can hit as soon as level 1.

Do go on about how the skill system in 4e that uses fixed DCs is somehow making a point? Is it that a level 30 character with that has utterly neglected this skill can always succeed at finding a day's worth of food and water with an hour's effort in one of the most desolate and dry places in the multiverse? Without magic, just mundane coolness.

The parts of 4e that use fixed DCs are largely broken messes that are legacies of 3e in a system that should have shed that. I don't care that you're a demigod -- you should be able to die of thirst (or be rendered catatonic) on the Elemental Plane of Parched Dryness.

I disagree, but it's a matter of interpretation of how both games do things. I don't have a problem in 5e presenting fantastic locations and setting DCs that work out pretty well. When you're 20th level and you go to do something, genre conventions suggest that range should be pretty epic. It's the idea that everything must be grounded only in the bonus math -- that a 0 bonus means only mundane things are allowed. That's not how 5e ability checks work -- you make an ability check when the outcome is uncertain, and it represents how you do at that task. If you have a 0 bonus and roll a 20 to pass a hard check, you don't just do it by the skin of your teeth, you do it. Just like if you had a +17 bonus and rolled a 20. The error in your argument is that bonus suggests range of options -- that you must have a high bonus to do something. But this isn't anywhere in 5e -- it's a legacy concept that you've apparently drug into 4e as well. The bonus doesn't matter -- it doesn't control what's possible. It's only a feed into things that are uncertain.

If Bob the Great, renowned Paladin, savior of the Kingdom, Hero of the Planes, approaches a guard who challenges him, his +0 on intimidate doesn't matter -- it's not an uncertain task that Bob identifies himself and the guard is cowed. If Bob is leaning on the King, he might need to roll, depending on how and why. This is because everyone knows the things Bob can do, so only things that can reasonably deal with those are likely to resist Bob. When that happens, Bob has a poor track record of successfully talking things down, but a good track record of deal with it afterwards (he's alive). There's quite a number of fantasy heroes that fit this mold.
I somewhat agree with you that the long lists of 'objective' DCs often don't work as well as simply setting a DC based on the fiction, which always has an associated level! So, then you simply go to the chart. This was my point about my own game design. It is just more explicit, EVERYTHING has a level, and any check associated with that thing has a DC set by the association of levels to DCs. Obviously there can be a lot of shades in there, the woods around the town are Level 1, but maybe the Forest of Grinn is more like level 10. Fifth level PCs go in there, and they have it pretty tough, but they can manage, at least at whichever skills they are reasonably good at.

The general point that 4e PCs who don't invest in a skill (IE it is not a proficiency and not tied to a primary/secondary ability score) has some merit. OTOH there WILL be easy checks now and then, and there WILL be times when the fiction constrains the opportunity to make that check to a given PC, so they just have to go for it. In REALITY, most PCs skill bonuses fall into 1 of three bins, the dump skills they can only pass easy checks on, the medium skills, and the focused skills. Medium skills are ones where the character has a good ability score, but not proficiency, or vice versa. They may also have some other sorts of bonuses that elevate a skill into that category (race, class, feat, etc.). The focused skills obviously combine a high ability score with proficiency, and usually at least some other bonuses.

So, most 4e PCs, at whatever level, can often or sometimes pass easy checks, maybe some medium checks at lower levels with a weak skill. At very high levels the very weakest skills become mostly useless, though you never know, you might encounter some unusually easy challenge (which is just hard for you)! OTOH the medium skills don't go down the tubes to anything like that degree. A few of the weaker ones might get pretty lame, but others will either become strong or at least allow for many checks to be passed, though possibly only with luck.

And remember, there's nothing wrong with a level 30 hard check to be pretty much impossible unless you're the guy who's whole career was spent focusing on that. This makes perfectly good sense! ONLY the Thief of Ages can steal the breathe from The Great Dragon, nobody else ever need apply for that job. OTOH the Ranger can probably get to the Dragon's lair without being spotted, probably.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Just to add a bit on this:
4e does not have any rules where it says "It is a DCX check to Jump N squares" or something like that. It has rules which say "If you make a Jump check (Athletics) and you get a 12, here's how many squares you jumped across." I mean, in many situations this may be roughly equivalent. OTOH it is establishing a fictional capability based on level (and other things). A level 1 PC with, say, a 16 STR (+3) and Athletics Proficiency (+5), will always get at least an 8, which is running long jump distance of 1 square (1.6 squares, or exactly 8 feet if you want to get that detailed, though in combat the extra bit won't likely matter). On average this character will jump 18 feet (3+ squares), and can hit a max of 28 feet (5+ squares). The same character, at 30th level would add AT LEAST +16 to that, averaging 34 feet, well beyond the current world record for the long jump (29 feet IIRC) and maxing out at a physically impossible 44 feet!

Obviously if you just need to jump a 10' gap, then the level 1 guy succeeded on a 3, and the level 30 guy just crosses without any comment at all. Still, these are direct specific FICTIONAL parameters mapping character ability to specific fiction. Likewise the 'Monster Knowledge Check' and general 'Knowledge Check' rules also have something of this character, providing a graded set of revelations on a topic based on how much the check exceeds a baseline DC in effect.

None of these numbers is really SUBJECTIVE, they are objectively determined by reference to the fiction and in the case of knowledge checks going from there to a level/tier to get a baseline DC. Likewise the DMG's 'door breaking' DCs, and general 'item damage' DCs, which relate specific fictions to the DC system, and thus pin them to a general level/tier of challenge.

Now, in other places, I've speculated that a GM could pretty easily alter some of this scaling in order to modify the genre feel of higher level play. For example you could fictionally allow characters of Epic levels to make 'mighty leaps' or take 'Air Steps' in Wire Fu fashion or whatnot. You would simply alter the expected outcomes of using skills like Athletics at those levels. The exact details are left as an exercise, but you could have Epic Heroes lifting hills, carving out valleys, drinking lakes, whatever you want. Worst case scenario you'd step on the toes of some high level rituals and whatnot that already provide a more limited gateway into those sorts of things (though they are not really all that prevalent in 4e). I'd also say that probably some things like that might WANT to be so gated. For a great example there is the Thief of Legend Epic Destiny, one of my favorite all-time 4e elements. I figure stealing love itself is probably more than a skill check, even at level 30, regardless of how fantastical you get...
This is for @Neonchameleon as well.

I disagree with your assertion, here. These numbers aren't objectively determined by reference to the fiction at all. They're just objective numbers and don't care about the fiction. The fiction can be whatever it wants, and the result of this check will tell you how far you've jumped. And this, right here, is my major problem with all fixed DCs in 4e. They are terrible holdovers that damage what's otherwise a nicely put together skill system. Here's an example. You need to jump 15 feet. Simple, roll and check, if your check is 15+, you do so. Now, you need to jump 15' against the full fury of an elemental storm's winds, winds that level mountains and move oceans. Still simple, if your check is 15+, you jump successfully.

This decoupling of the fiction is what makes these fixed DCs so bad in the conceptual space of the 4e skill system. You have to essentially maintain two different skill system evaluations do deal with normal, level gated DCs and also the fixed DC skill system. Need a jump that's a challenge, you have to prep it or pick it from one set of considerations. Need an intimidation challenge, use the other one! Fixed DC skills in 4e are the absolute worst part of the 4e skill system. They are unnecessary - everything they do can be handled within the leveled DC system and level appropriate challenges.

That these are the things that are used as the only example that sticks of how you get "better" in the 4e skill system is, to me, extremely ironic.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I somewhat agree with you that the long lists of 'objective' DCs often don't work as well as simply setting a DC based on the fiction, which always has an associated level! So, then you simply go to the chart. This was my point about my own game design. It is just more explicit, EVERYTHING has a level, and any check associated with that thing has a DC set by the association of levels to DCs. Obviously there can be a lot of shades in there, the woods around the town are Level 1, but maybe the Forest of Grinn is more like level 10. Fifth level PCs go in there, and they have it pretty tough, but they can manage, at least at whichever skills they are reasonably good at.

The general point that 4e PCs who don't invest in a skill (IE it is not a proficiency and not tied to a primary/secondary ability score) has some merit. OTOH there WILL be easy checks now and then, and there WILL be times when the fiction constrains the opportunity to make that check to a given PC, so they just have to go for it. In REALITY, most PCs skill bonuses fall into 1 of three bins, the dump skills they can only pass easy checks on, the medium skills, and the focused skills. Medium skills are ones where the character has a good ability score, but not proficiency, or vice versa. They may also have some other sorts of bonuses that elevate a skill into that category (race, class, feat, etc.). The focused skills obviously combine a high ability score with proficiency, and usually at least some other bonuses.

So, most 4e PCs, at whatever level, can often or sometimes pass easy checks, maybe some medium checks at lower levels with a weak skill. At very high levels the very weakest skills become mostly useless, though you never know, you might encounter some unusually easy challenge (which is just hard for you)! OTOH the medium skills don't go down the tubes to anything like that degree. A few of the weaker ones might get pretty lame, but others will either become strong or at least allow for many checks to be passed, though possibly only with luck.

And remember, there's nothing wrong with a level 30 hard check to be pretty much impossible unless you're the guy who's whole career was spent focusing on that. This makes perfectly good sense! ONLY the Thief of Ages can steal the breathe from The Great Dragon, nobody else ever need apply for that job. OTOH the Ranger can probably get to the Dragon's lair without being spotted, probably.
It's weird when you're making my points at me, but coming to a different conclusion. This is exactly as I've characterized how the 4e skill system works. It's also how the 5e skill system works -- even a dump skill can make easy checks most of the time. The claim was that 4e dump skills still showed you getting better, when, effectively, that doesn't matter because of how the DC system works -- you're treading water. But, this same effect in 5e was held out as showing incompetence. The only effective difference, though, is what number you're adding to the d20 -- the outcomes are the same.
 

That these are the things that are used as the only example that sticks of how you get "better" in the 4e skill system is, to me, extremely ironic.
They aren't. And that you say they are tells me that you aren't actually bothering to read what has been written, instead cherry picking only what you can deal with.

Your skill increases and it's visible that the numbers are going up. If you repeat the same task the DC is still the same and you can see how you've improved. You also see that the same foes become less of a threat also show how you've improved.

And that 5e half-assed its skill system, not benchmarking anything so you don't actually know what a skill level means while at the same time hard coding things so you can show that you literally aren't improving doesn't mysteriously make it better than a skill system with benchmarks.
 

It's also how the 5e skill system works -- even a dump skill can make easy checks most of the time.
Only if "most of the time" means "barely over half the time".
The claim was that 4e dump skills still showed you getting better, when, effectively, that doesn't matter because of how the DC system works
Except that as has been pointed out it does matter because of how the monster math and the DC skill system works.
But, this same effect in 5e was held out as showing incompetence.
This is a misrepresentation. It's not just the same effect, it's that you are doing literally the same things and see no progress.
The only effective difference, though, is what number you're adding to the d20 -- the outcomes are the same.
Nope. The fiction is different.

Anyway, I should disengage here. I can't tell whether you've not bothered to read or just don't have any arguments but aren't willing to change your mind. Either way goodbye.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Ah, @Neonchamequoted me twice and then blocked me. I had no idea the discussion was so acrimonious for them. It's not for me -- I very much like 4e. His having a difference of opinion was not upsetting to me at all.
 

If you neglect a skill in 4e you will still get better at it. Which has a meaningful in game effect. If you've entirely neglected both skill and stat and are trying to attempt something hard you have screwed up badly.

Meanwhile the 5e skill system was slapped together to the point they couldn't be bothered to work out how the DCs related to what the PCs were trying to do. That said it's not the worst part of the 5e DM tools; the DMG monster design tools not only don't work but they couldn't even be bothered to make them match the Monster Manual. 5e does a lot right from the players' side of the screen but for DMs "broken treadmills" is a good metaphor.

So let's look at the actual math of 5e.

An easy task is DC 10. Which means someone with no skill and no training has about a 50% chance of completing it (yes, I'm rounding down and it's actually 55%). This leads to the following effects in play:
  • If you have only a 50% chance of doing something and failure has consequences it's a bad roll and you should only do it in an emergency.
  • If you have a 50% chance of doing something and failure has no consequences it's bad to roll and you should just take 10 or 20.
The results of this are that in 5e if you have entirely neglected a skill you should never be doing it unless you have somehow got advantage. In 4e you use easy skill checks to pitch in and help even if you're no good at the thing being done; you've spotted a great opportunity because (at least the version I use and I fully accept there were several iterations) it needs a 7 not a 10 as the default and you've a 2/3 chance of making things better.
Just need to add. I am looking at the DC chart in my Essentials Rules Compendium, the most updated version of the DCs. A level 1 Easy DC is 8. A level 30 Easy DC is 24. This is a delta of 16 points, which means that a level 30 PC (+15 level bonus) is perfectly capable of passing this check about 65% of the time (you get at least an increase of +1 by Epic in all ability bonuses relative to level 1). So, PCs never 'fall off the wagon' WRT Easy checks in 4e. Moderate checks increase by 20 points (from 12 to 32), which means they WILL be roughly equivalent to a level 1 Hard check (a bit easier) for a level 30 with just baseline advancement in a skill. Hard checks increase by 23 points, so they go from "Only on a 19" for the talentless PC to mildly impossible. Merely gaining proficiency in the related skill will MORE THAN correct for this difference. So, really, considering other likely smaller bonuses many PCs get over 30 levels to many skills, most characters will either slightly improve, or stay the same, on most checks when they didn't invest in the skill.
Do you own a 4e PHB? Because skill descriptions in 4e that have at least some static DCs include:
  • Acrobatics (balance)
  • Arcana (Identify conjuration or zone, identify ritual, identify magical effect, sense the presence of magic)
  • Athletics
  • Dungeoneering (Foraging)
  • Endurance
  • Heal
  • Insight (recognise effect as illusionary)
  • Nature (Forage)
  • Perception (Listen difficulties, Spot or search, Find tracks)
  • Streetwise
  • Thievery (Disable trap, open lock)
Oh, and knowledge checks for quite a few things. Admittedly Essentials has slightly less (I can't find my Rules Cyclopaedia to check)
Essentials gets a little 'weird', there are a couple sentences in the RC that almost seem like they are trying to say that every DC "Just magically increases" to match your level. I don't know if that was bad editing, or what. Other parts of RC are pretty much consistent with the Original PHB1/DMG1 rules though. Frankly, though I think some parts of the Essentials rules are a genuine improvement (Skill Challenges basically) I'd ignore a lot of the rest of it. It either misstates several things, or states them in ways which simply don't make sense, usually in a misguided attempt to 'simplify' something (falling, flying, and mounts for instance, just use DMG1).
4e was not 3.5 and it was not 5e. It was in many ways a transitional form. And in many ways this gave it strengths that neither individually has; it's a much looser skill system than 3.5 without being the entire loosy-goosey "we couldn't be bothered with any sort of benchmark; ask your DM" of 5e.

And I think it was right to have fewer fixed checks - but that it has some should kill any idea that there's no progression and you're just on a treadmill stone cold dead. The only treadmill you are on in 4e is that as you level up you take on harder challenges - the way it has always been. You're physically and mentally more capable because you've learned things, unlike in 5e.
Honestly, I am not really concerned about the whole issue anyway. 4e could have NO defined 'objective' checks at all, it wouldn't change my opinion/interpretation of it at all. In fact I would not, and haven't, used any of the 'fixed DC' stuff in ages when running it. AT MOST I would consider those DCs 'advisory', that is they are more useful to a GM when building an adventure in order to understand the sort of thematic material that the designers considered appropriate at whatever level you are playing at. So, if you are playing a level 1 adventure, then 20' leaps are challenging but quite doable with a running start, for a talented character. Put those in. For Epic characters you want at least 30' or even 40' leaps. Likewise you would describe a strong door as 'wooden' at level 1, and 'adamantium' at level 30. Noting that if the PCs haul that adamantium door back home and sell it to the dwarves, it is worth a big pile of coin! So the fiction really does care.
 

Which system?

Burning Wheel has this: lots of difficulties listed for many if not all skills. Any table is of course free to depart from them (and there are some differences between editions, and my charts don't draw exclusively on Revised or Gold but rather straddle the two), but they provide a basic "picture" of a setting.

But I don't think such a thing would be useful for 4e. BW does not need a particular success/failure rate to drive its gameplay; it has other devices for that. But 4e works best when the maths is properly aligned (hence the adjustments to the maths over the lifetime of the edition) and this means that good DC-by-level charts are important, and these are correlated with fiction moment-by-moment to build up the table's sense of what the different tiers of play mean (as per my quote from @LostSoul upthread).

A concreate example: at the high end of Epic Tier one of the players in my 4e game succeeded on a DC 41 Arcana check to seal the Abyss. This was a Hard check at level 29.

Now it's possible for a Heroic tier PC to have a +21 Arcana bonus - eg +6 from a stat of 22, +8 from proficiency and focus, +2 from an item, +2 from race, +2 from background or theme, and +1 from some other sundry bonus. That doesn't mean that, on a roll of 20 giving a total of 41, that PC could seal the Abyss. Such a feat is simply not within the scope of fictional possibilities for a Heroic tier PC. This is what I mean when I say that, in 4e at least as I understand and approach it, the fiction - based on the table's shared understanding of what is possible for PCs of a given tier - comes first, and then mechanics are used to ensure the numbers that are assigned are appropriate for the gameplay. So in the case of sealing the Abyss, it is possible for a level 29 PC to do it, but definitely Hard - hence the DC is 41.

I generally agree with this. Where I disagree is in the Athletics rules for jumping in combat - which establish an at-will baseline against which other abilities are to be measured - and the Perception vs Stealth checks for dealing with hiding and invisibility in combat. But for foraging and the like, it is the skill challenge maths that is important and those charts in the PHB are just a distraction. (Here I disagree with @Neonchameleon.)


The second of these quotes is in my view more accurate than the first as a description of how (what I am calling) a system of "subjective" difficulties works (eg 4e as I understand it, HeroQuest revised, Marvel Heroic RP, also Agon and even Apocalypse World insofar as these have few or no modifiers to reflect circumstantial difficulty, outsourcing all that to the narration of framing and consequence). The fiction takes care of itself - we have a table understanding of what is possible at a given level/tier - and DCs are set by reference to the level-appropriate charts (whether for skills, or monsters, in the latter case having regard to the possibility of higher level monsters for various purposes and in the former case having regard to Easy, Medium and Hard checks as well as different complexities of skill challenge).

There are long lists of traps, creatures, terrain and architectural features, etc with numbers assigned, but these are (in my view) just guides: they give you some default fiction for your level/tier. Departing from them - eg 12th level non-minion bugbears, an iron door that is DC 30 (ie moderate level 27) rather than DC 25 (DMG p 64) to break down, etc - won't cause any problems as long as no one balks at the aesthetic result (eg a bugbear that is a meaningful challenge to a paragon tier PC; a metal door that a demigod cannot bust through without effort; etc).

The first of the two quotes is correct to say that, on the approach I'm describing, the setting of a DC is not based on the fiction but is not really correct to say that good practice is to make sure your fiction aligns with those DCs as there is no "alignment" beyond the fact that no one at the table balks at the scene as framed, nor finds the resolution contrived or threatening to verisimilitude. I think this is a difference from 5e, where if climbing the mountain with pitons and robe was deemed DC 15 last session then one would expect it to be the same this session: at least as I understand it, 5e DCs are meant to correlate to the fiction in a consistent way. Likewise the difference between a monster with 50 hp and +6 to hit and one with 80 hp and +7 to hit is expected to be noticeable in the fiction. The idea of the maths purely as a pacing/gameplay device is not part of the 5e approach, as best I understand it. Again, this is what I am getting at via the terminology of "objective" vs "subjective" DCs. And in this respect I see 5e as being like BW, Classic Traveller and AD&D. (And probably 3E too, but 3E is weird enough to me at least that I don't really know what sense to make of its difficulty rules.)
I don't think I have any really great dispute with what you are saying as a representation of most PRACTICE of 4e. That is, I'm going to have that level 12 bugbear, and he's going to have some swirly ninja-like fluff maybe to his moves. Mechanically he's just a bugbear jacked to level 12, and I used that particular level to depict him because it was convenient to do so, and not through some deep analysis of what kind of challenge Bugbearjutsu should be (and how would I know anyway, its all fantasy, there's nothing to go on). Likewise adamantium doesn't exist and cannot be objectively rated for hardness, it is just a word that evokes an idea. So, we describe the black clad super bugbear leaping out of the darkness with a great KIYIEEEHHH! and thwacking the fighter up side the head with a roundhouse kick. Ouch, you just took 4d8+12 damage from that surprise kick! Yup, a bugbear seems to have rather easily hit you, even though you are a mighty Paragon Arena Master!

OTOH, I would fully expect that that specific bugbear will be a super badass regardless of what party he goes against. I might change his numbers up to make him a Solo of level 4 if he's kicking the arse of a level 1 party, but his fiction, and whatever mechanics are selected to represent it, will be pretty consistent and have a fictional basis.

Admittedly, stock Standard monsters are not exactly something you need spend vast amounts of time describing and justifying. It may well be that said bugbear gets exactly 2 minutes in play and nobody gives a fig why he's level 12, unless it has some profound plot relevance. I still don't feel like FUNDAMENTALLY the DCs are subjective though. I just think they are not really the focus of play.

Having played 4e and 5e, I must say, there seems to be a lot more focus on this sort of justification, and on the minutia of what exactly justifies every DC in 5e. It can get rather tedious IME. You have all this mechanics, but it doesn't actually DELIVER ANYTHING, because the GM can simply call for another check or describe what happens next as something trivial, regardless of what I invested in success.
 

The fiction increases because the DC does. The DC does not increase because the fiction does. This is apparent -- change the chart to a different progression and you'll have to alter the fiction you're using. If you change your fiction first, it now no longer aligns with the chart, and the players will be seeing DCs outside of the range suggested by the fiction.

Also, there's my conversation with @pemerton that clearly suggests his approach is to only make sure the tier is represented in the fiction, actual DCs are selected due to pacing or challenge concerns. They only need align to the fiction enough that they aren't glaringly inappropriate.
I honestly have no idea what you mean by this. I am STARTING AND ENDING WITH FICTION. The DC is simply a number, which happens to work within the context of the other mechanics of 4e. If those numbers were different, then the mechanics would be different, but the fundamental mechanical assumption of about a 55-65% success rate would still obtain. No fiction would change at all.

I mean, obviously if you want to imagine 'not-4e' that uses a different overall success rate, then maybe (depending on other factors) you might want to change the fiction at a given level, but this not-4e is (wait for it) NOT 4E! lol.

As I just said to @pemerton, I don't have a real big bone with the idea that GMs don't spend all their time intricately developing every fictional justification for every exact DC/Level they assign to each element in play, especially the less important ones. Still, I absolutely start from the fiction. I absolute end with the fiction. Numbers are a tool which can be used to make the mechanics support that fiction. Granting Pemerton's point, I could make the bugbear level 16 and meh, yeah, the same fiction will 'stick' because level 12 and level 16 are both pretty much 'mid-paragon' and nobody is going to care THAT much.
 

Great! Here's the thing. Bob the Ignores Climbing Skills Man has exactly the same chance to scale the loose scree slope of gentleness at 1st level (an easy challenge, DC 8) as he does to scale the cliffs of Tartarus at 30th (DC 24) for "reasons." Nifty. It looks like Bob has gotten better, but, in reality, Bob is on a treadmill and will never, as I've been told multiple times, ever even have to roll to climb the loose scree slope of gentleness. It's a non-issue now. But, when I say that 5e lets the GM determine this, I get met with disbelieve -- there's no way 5e suggests doing this! But, it does, because the guidance is to consider if the task is uncertain, and, if so, has a consequence for failure. Bob in 5e, at 20th level, faces no consequence of note from the loose scree slope of gentleness, and the climb up the cliffs of Tartarus can be an easy task in 5e as well with the right approach. So, Bob in 5e has the same chances as well. This is my point -- there's nothing about the monotonous increase in baseline numbers in 4e, because, in play, it just keeps you in the same place against the math increase, at the easy end. The hard end, though, is a different matter. If the tasks to climb above are hard instead of easy, Bob the 4e character will never climb the cliffs of Tartarus -- he cannot make the check. For Bob in 5e, he still has a chance at it.
And I take it as the 4e approach is entirely successful, by default. 'Bob' climbs the scree with difficulty at level 1 and the slope in Tartarus at level 30. Yeah, so what if the numbers are the same on the DC, it is the fiction I care about, and how the game engine DRIVES the resulting outcomes. Its a d20 system, so there isn't really all that much choice in terms of numbers on the dice being the same. I mean, if you want to do dice pools, then you can make bigger pools match against bigger DCs instead of using a level bonus type of concept.

5e just misses the boat here, yes, you can simply set the DC of Tartarus the same as the DC of level 1's scree. Fair enough, but you have radically changed the relationship of the challenge for every other PC except Bob! (IE the ones that are proficient).

And 4e's RC DC chart indicates that even a Hard level 30 check is only BARELY impossible for 4e Bob. I mean, granted, even if he finds another +5 he is unlikely to pass the check, but then again 5e Bob won't either if the GM actually increases the DC, which I think he is obliged to do if he wants to demonstrate more dangerous circumstances.

Sure, 4e without using an SC has a valence issue similar to 5e, but the fact is 4e DOES have SCs, and they are normally pretty easy to implement for situations of a "We take on this environmental/terrain challenge" I would be surprised to find very many GMs who are unable to make that work. I don't think it is fair to judge 4e on the basis of no SCs any more than it is fair to judge 5e on the basis of ignorance about how skills should(n't) be used, if it comes down to it.

So, if we look at both systems PROPERLY PLAYED, then 4e provides both terrains as SCs or SC elements, and provides a DC which will mechanically work with the characters of the PC's level, trusting that the GM will 'skin' things in an milieu/genre appropriate way (IE Tartarus vs some hill near town). Each of these SCs will, presumably, yield equivalent chances of success.

5e will provide that you can ask for a skill check. The GM will then have to ask himself if he wants to depict the climb in Tartarus as any different from the one near town. Maybe yes, maybe no, its up to him... Presumably he folds in some sort of sense of 'genre appropriateness' and maybe he decides the slope in Tartarus is 'equivalently hard', and then most of the party will just climb up with basically no chance of failure. Nobody even knows what happens if Bob fails, does he take some damage? Does he get stuck and then someone needs to rescue him (IE expend some other resource) or what?

In 4e if he fails, it checks a fail box on the SC, maybe another PC can undo that failure (this is an option in some SCs), or help Bob in the first place (Aid Another), or maybe the players can describe an approach in which Bob never has to make a check, or his check is only a test to see if he slips and gets dinged an HS on the way up. There are choices, but all this will be spelled out ahead of time.

Frankly, in 4e I would only use standalone Skill Checks for situations where the player really initiates a test of their skill, or where another subsystem already establishes the value of the outcomes (IE a monster knowledge check or similar). In other situations the outcome is fundamentally just advisory and for color. I don't even bother with those. Something happens, it isn't really important what it is, or it spurs some new scene framing down the road, perhaps.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I honestly have no idea what you mean by this. I am STARTING AND ENDING WITH FICTION. The DC is simply a number, which happens to work within the context of the other mechanics of 4e. If those numbers were different, then the mechanics would be different, but the fundamental mechanical assumption of about a 55-65% success rate would still obtain. No fiction would change at all.

I mean, obviously if you want to imagine 'not-4e' that uses a different overall success rate, then maybe (depending on other factors) you might want to change the fiction at a given level, but this not-4e is (wait for it) NOT 4E! lol.

As I just said to @pemerton, I don't have a real big bone with the idea that GMs don't spend all their time intricately developing every fictional justification for every exact DC/Level they assign to each element in play, especially the less important ones. Still, I absolutely start from the fiction. I absolute end with the fiction. Numbers are a tool which can be used to make the mechanics support that fiction. Granting Pemerton's point, I could make the bugbear level 16 and meh, yeah, the same fiction will 'stick' because level 12 and level 16 are both pretty much 'mid-paragon' and nobody is going to care THAT much.
I don't see how this is possible. Let me give an example:

The scene is a character is scaling a cliffside with reasonable handholds, but wet from recent rain. What is the DC of this climb? I'll be nice and set this in the heroic tier, although the basic setup can exist across all tiers of play -- it could the the cliffs outside the home village, or the cliffs surrounding the Dread Necromancer's Keep, or the cliffs of the Infinite Spire in the center of the Outlands. You do not get a level. Select a DC for this, not a range, and explain how that DC is correct instead of another based on the fiction.

To me, you cannot do this. This challenge is fictionally positioned across the entire tier, and the DC is going to be dependent on character level, the +/- level adjustment the GM determines this challenge merits, and whether or not the GM thinks this should be easy, medium, or hard (could think any of these). These considerations do not flow from the fiction -- the fiction is generically placed to support multiple answers. Nothing flows from it. At best, it's a constraint in that if you assign a DC that doesn't fit at all, it's noticeable, but that's about it.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
And I take it as the 4e approach is entirely successful, by default. 'Bob' climbs the scree with difficulty at level 1 and the slope in Tartarus at level 30. Yeah, so what if the numbers are the same on the DC, it is the fiction I care about, and how the game engine DRIVES the resulting outcomes. Its a d20 system, so there isn't really all that much choice in terms of numbers on the dice being the same. I mean, if you want to do dice pools, then you can make bigger pools match against bigger DCs instead of using a level bonus type of concept.

5e just misses the boat here, yes, you can simply set the DC of Tartarus the same as the DC of level 1's scree. Fair enough, but you have radically changed the relationship of the challenge for every other PC except Bob! (IE the ones that are proficient).
This doesn't make any sense to me. If I pick an easy challenge in 4e, I've done the same thing. I'm not sure how you think 5e's skill system works -- the guys that have +9 at first level (expertise, proficient, +3 stat) autosucceed at an easy challenge. They have a +17 at 20th (expertise, proficiency, +5 stat) and still autosucceed at easy challenges. And medium challenges. And only fail 10% of the time at hard challenges. As fits a 20th level expert at a skill.
And 4e's RC DC chart indicates that even a Hard level 30 check is only BARELY impossible for 4e Bob. I mean, granted, even if he finds another +5 he is unlikely to pass the check, but then again 5e Bob won't either if the GM actually increases the DC, which I think he is obliged to do if he wants to demonstrate more dangerous circumstances.
Huh? The DC for hard at level 30 is 42. Bob's check is +16. That's a max roll of 36, or 8 points shy. Even if Bob picks up proficiency (+5 more), he's 3 shy of even a chance of success.
Sure, 4e without using an SC has a valence issue similar to 5e, but the fact is 4e DOES have SCs, and they are normally pretty easy to implement for situations of a "We take on this environmental/terrain challenge" I would be surprised to find very many GMs who are unable to make that work. I don't think it is fair to judge 4e on the basis of no SCs any more than it is fair to judge 5e on the basis of ignorance about how skills should(n't) be used, if it comes down to it.
Skill Challenges are not required for 4e -- you can play successfully without them. Is it a lesser experience? In my opinion, yes, but mine is not the only opinion. And lots of people -- as in very many vocal people -- could not make this work. There's evidence of it -- it was rather nasty. You think it's not fair to judge 4e by this? Fine. Then you owe 5e the benefit of the doubt as well.
So, if we look at both systems PROPERLY PLAYED, then 4e provides both terrains as SCs or SC elements, and provides a DC which will mechanically work with the characters of the PC's level, trusting that the GM will 'skin' things in an milieu/genre appropriate way (IE Tartarus vs some hill near town). Each of these SCs will, presumably, yield equivalent chances of success.

5e will provide that you can ask for a skill check. The GM will then have to ask himself if he wants to depict the climb in Tartarus as any different from the one near town. Maybe yes, maybe no, its up to him... Presumably he folds in some sort of sense of 'genre appropriateness' and maybe he decides the slope in Tartarus is 'equivalently hard', and then most of the party will just climb up with basically no chance of failure. Nobody even knows what happens if Bob fails, does he take some damage? Does he get stuck and then someone needs to rescue him (IE expend some other resource) or what?
You start with "properly played" and then make up a proper play for 4e that mirrors your approach and then invent a strawman bad 'proper play' for 5e that's easy to punch and claim victory.

Here's a trick -- imagine I might be correct, and strive to see if you can make it work. This is how I actually learned how D&D wasn't the only game or only approach out there. I see what you're doing -- it's good stuff, I highly recommend this approach to 4e. It's not guaranteed that everyone does this, or even most. It's also not the only interpretation of 4e rules.
In 4e if he fails, it checks a fail box on the SC, maybe another PC can undo that failure (this is an option in some SCs), or help Bob in the first place (Aid Another), or maybe the players can describe an approach in which Bob never has to make a check, or his check is only a test to see if he slips and gets dinged an HS on the way up. There are choices, but all this will be spelled out ahead of time.

Frankly, in 4e I would only use standalone Skill Checks for situations where the player really initiates a test of their skill, or where another subsystem already establishes the value of the outcomes (IE a monster knowledge check or similar). In other situations the outcome is fundamentally just advisory and for color. I don't even bother with those. Something happens, it isn't really important what it is, or it spurs some new scene framing down the road, perhaps.
Yes, you are clearly putting how you run the game in place of the game itself.
 

pemerton

Legend
You've just described what I meant, though. That the fiction follows the DC, the DC doesn't follow the fiction.

<snip>

I'm not sure I agree with your last example. If, in 4e, you climb a wall and the DC is X, and then later, you climb the exact same wall in exactly the same way, but the DC is now Y, I think there would be issues.
I think this is where we have a difference of conception.

It's probably hard to pin down to the level of precision you state here ("exactly the same wall") because that almost never happens. Even if it's literally the same place, the pressures on the PC are probably different - eg you're fleeing yeth hounds rather than wargs rather than wolves rather than a pack of rats.

What I'm trying to convey, though, is that broad sense of change of scope/stakes is - in general - enough to do the work of carrying the DCs. Another way to put it, borrowed rom Burning Wheel, is that assignment of DCs is not doing the work of conveying the colour, the tone and feel and detail, of the world. That work is being done prior to DC assignment, by everyone's sense of who these PCs are, what tier they are, what the stakes are, etc. One upshot is that the world of 4e is painted with in much broader strokes, with a much more neon palette, than the intricacy, subtlety and "grittiness" of BW or even Tomb of Horrors. I personally think this is a feature - of course history reveals that not everyone agrees.

Unless your assumption is that climbing any way with piton is DC 15? In which case, no, I don't agree with this at all. The fictional positioning for different walls will be different, so the DC will alter to reflect that.
We agree on this. I've restated your point here just above, with my reference to "level of precision". But there is something in the neighbourhood that I'm trying to convey, pointing to games I'm familiar with that mark the difference.

The only way I could see a player being upset at a different DC would be if it was the same wall and nothing else was different as well. But, even gaining a few levels can impact that in 5e, as the GM may feel that this challenge has moved down in tier, or that prior experience with it lends itself to making it easier.
I read your first sentence as referring to upset in 5e. I hope that's right.

My view is that in 4e, the player can never be upset (on reasonable grounds) about the maths, provided the GM is following the DC-by-level and monster/NPC/trap-building guidelines. So, for instance, s/he can never validly complain How come that bugbear had so many hit points? - which is a legitimate complaint in (eg) AD&D, if the GM just makes a bugbear arbitrarily tougher. (For related reasons, I think advice about "curb-stomping"/"roflstomping" encounters stated in the books and restated in this thread is not good advice - that advice presupposes that a monster has an "objective" mechanical expression. But showing the players that PCs with the maths of 10th level characters can defeat an encounter designed for 5th level characters, to my mind, has all the thrill of reminding them that 10 is greater than 5 - ie it can be done pretty quickly and trivially and is not worth even a minute's time at the table. The way to convey "roflstomping" is by use of minions, swarms etc in meaningful encounters which are devices that convey the change of fictional scope/stakes using the (non-DC related) toosl that a 4e GM has ready to hand.)

What a 4e player can legitimately complain about is that the fiction is silly/unpersuasive/repetitive/boring. This is one reason - not the only one - why I think discussions of what makes for good scene-framing, that come out of "indie" RPGing, are useful for 4e in a way that they're not for (say) AD&D.

I feel that we do not disagree in the broad scope, but that our examples are raising conflict due to assumptions about 5e play that don't align with my understanding of it. Your larger points are good, though. I still dislike the terminology you've selected, because I'm not being objective when setting DCs for 5e -- it's entirely my interpretation of things. The same situation can get different DCs from different 5e GMs. I don't really see that as objective, so I dislike the term. It's grounded in the fiction, though, in that whatever heuristic a 5e GM is using should treat similar situations similarly, but this doesn't mean there's an objective tie, just consistency. Your approach to 4e eschews this consistency outside the level/difficulty bands (it's consistent within them) so I definitely see a difference.
I stick to the terminology of objective/subjective because (i) I've used it over many discussions for many years and so am comfortable with it, and (ii) it conveys - to me, at least! - that the purpose of the DCs is, or is not, to convey some "truth" about the fiction. I think in AD&D this is the case (eg 8 HD vs 4 HD tells us that a hill giant is bigger and tougher than an ogre) whereas in 4e I think that is not the case - the fiction prior to the mechanics which is based on D&D tradition, expressed thematic content, etc tells us that sort of thing (perhaps together with non-DC related mechanical elements like a size stat, the description implicit in a combat ability, etc); whereas the level and DCs and damage expressions (ie all the stuff for which there is a "by level" chart) are then wheeled out simply to make sure that the thing we've already conceived of will deliver appropriate game play.

Part of the reason I am keen to spell all this out is that I think it reveals, transparently, what so many RPGers disliked about 4e D&D without applying spurious labels such as "dissociated mechanics" or misleading ones like "treadmill" that - as this thread shows - some people interpret as an implausible denial that earlier versions of D&D never had scaling. Of course they did! But the relationship between mechanics and fiction evinced by scaling in AD&D is completely different from 4e D&D. (3E is much harder to comment on, and much weirder, as I said above.)

As you know I'm nothing like an expert on 5e, but I think it's return to more-or-less AD&D norms as far as DCs (both in combat and out-of-combat) are concerned is an important part of its success. It treats hit points a bit differently from AD&D, but I think leaning into the pre-existing slipperiness of hp/damage is a clever design decision, because hp already either conceal a multitude of sins, and have been forgiven for doing so. The cost for someone like me is that the combat game becomes far less dynamic than 4e made it, and the colour that in 4e was so rich (which I say without resiling from what I said above about broad brush strokes and neon colours) is much diluted. (In this thread, I think the term "mundane" is used by some posters to convey the same idea. I prefer my way of conveying it.)

Also, there's my conversation with @pemerton that clearly suggests his approach is to only make sure the tier is represented in the fiction, actual DCs are selected due to pacing or challenge concerns. They only need align to the fiction enough that they aren't glaringly inappropriate.
I say something different from this - perhaps I should say I go further than this. I assert that there is no alignment of DCs to fiction. That is a concept that presupposes, in some fashion or to some extent, what I am calling "objective" DCs.

I am asserting that there is the fiction, and then there are DCs and other level-dependent stuff like damage expressions, and the former has to stand or fall on its own merits and plausiblity/consistency/verisimilitude/thematic heft, while the latter stand or fall based on the technical adequacy of the maths. (This is why there were multiple maths revisions that did not require any fiction revisions; and conversely why you can have fiction variants - like Neverwinter cramming paragon theme into heroic tier, or (in my view, though unlike Neverwinter not expressly stated) Dark Sun expanding paragon theme into epic tier - without needing to change any maths.)

A comparison - imperfect but hopefully comprehensible - is to AW, where there is no alignment of DCs to fiction, either loose or tight. There is just a constant spread of probabilities, designed for pacing reasons (and mathematically much more straightforward and transparent than 4) with everything else being carried by the fiction itself separately from the mechanics/maths.

EDITed to fix format issues.
 
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