The ChaosGrenade

Quick & Dirty Tabletop Role-Playing

D·10 TOOLKIT: RULING DIFFICULTY

2019-05-09 Rambling R.E. Davis

For today’s article in the D·10 Toolkit series, I wanted to take a look at the core mechanics and, specifically, how difficulty and challenges are expressed in the die rolls, and how you can change it up for your own games.

Drive·10 was designed for fast rulings and game play, and with it I used a very straight-forward approach to determining the difficulty of the roll.

  • All rolls are 1d10 + Proficiency (total bonuses), succeed on a total of 10+.
  • If a task is declared to be Challenging, the Proficiency bonus is cut in half.

You can think of D·10 like a simplified percentile system – your Proficiency score gives you the odds of success (a +6 is 60%, taking into consideration that a roll of “1” always fails.)

So, what constitutes “Challenging”? My personal philosophy is that if the dice are even having to be rolled, it should be a difficult task where the risk of failure will affect the game play in a drastic or interesting way. A Challenging task is one where even the most talented or experienced person would have a hard time. Climbing the side of a cliff is difficult task, where failure can be catastrophic, but the right skills and equipment can handle it. However, climbing it in the middle of a blustery blizzard would be Challenging. Or chasing someone through a crowded street festival or landing an impossible shot from long range against a target behind cover – you get the idea.

So while cutting the Proficiency on a die roll is a very quick approach, it isn’t the only avenue available for expressing difficulty or challenging the players. In this article, we’re going to look at some variant difficulty mechanics that you can implement into Drive·10, either as a replacement or in addition to the rules that are there.

Penalties and Target Numbers

Easiest way to tweak difficulty is to give a penalty to the player. Every -1 step reduces the odds by 10% (you can think of it like a -2 modifier in traditional d20 fantasy games.) A -2 penalty on the roll is a harder task, and a -4 or more is pretty substantial.

Flipping it the other way, you could always add to the base target number (10) needed to roll for a success. This is mathematically the same, but for many the escalating difficulty numbers may be quicker to process and just feel right. I personally love the static 10+, but it’s apples and oranges really.

Difficulty Target Number
Easy Why Roll?
Difficult 10+
Harder 12+
Challenging 14+

What About Bonuses?

Flat bonuses are handled in the D·10 framework as tags in the form of Boosts. When determining the Proficiency for a task roll, the player may gain +1 from both a character tag and equipment, but only once each.

Granting additional boosts should be done sparingly — as I’ve stated every +1 in this system is a big deal! The GM may wave a third boost can be allowed due to circumstance, but honestly it’s usually better to just give them an extra Edge in their favor.

Challenge Ranges & Mishaps

Another option to scale difficulty can be presented in a Challenge Range – by default it’s “1” and scales up with harder tasks. Whenever a player rolls the die, not only are they trying to roll an overall score of 10+, but the die roll itself is trying to roll higher than the Challenge Range. If you roll a total of 10+, but the die roll is equal or under the range score, it becomes a mishap (or a success with consequence). Failures remain failures and rolling a “1” continues to automatically fail regardless.

When a Mishap occurs, the character manages to succeed in their task but does so at a cost, perhaps as a hindrance to others or creating a new problem for them. These are arbitrarily decided based on the situation, but one possible result is they create an opposing Edge that works against them (or perhaps they take a penalty on next action, take on a temporary hindrance or so forth.)

What I like about this approach is that it raises the odds for characters who are highly proficient – you may have a +8 to succeed but against a challenge range of, say, 4 you still have odds of fumbling something up and making life harder for you and your allies.

Player-Facing Opposition

For groups who prefer systems where the players do most of the rolling, you could adopt the Challenge Range mechanics to handle opposed rolls (including combat). In short – the player rolls the die like normal, trying to beat 10 (and higher results mean higher Degree of Success.) But the die result is also compared to a Challenge Range equal to their opponent’s Proficiency score – in which case, rolling equal to or lower determines the Degree of Success for the opponent!

When a player has the Edge on their roll with these rules, they may roll twice and decide which die to use on the action. When an opponent has the Edge, the player still rolls twice, and the GM decides which die they use. In the case of Extended Opposing Actions, the highest die is compared to the Difficulty Range when the player has The Edge. In the opponent’s case, both dice are compared to the Difficulty Range.

Designer Rant: Why I Don’t Use “Disadvantage”

One of the more divisive elements I’ve had feedback on was how I had an “advantage” mechanic (called Edge) but lacked a “Disadvantage” (as in, roll twice and take worse.) These are the best answers I can give on that:

  • First off, I love the “tit-for-tat” scramble of deciding who has the Edge in an opposing situation. Not only linking tags but establishing circumstantial advantages like the environment, tools used, etc. For me, and this is just my experience, it was faster and flowed better to decide who had the upper hand and move on. Further stacking stuff up to penalize a character required additional processing on the spot, and I was fine with not dealing with it.

  • Some have asked why I didn’t use a “Disadvantage” mechanic as a form of difficulty modifier. Again, just my preference here – while it yields similar results for lower and average characters, it wasn’t punishing enough for me on higher proficiencies. If something is a straight up challenging task, I want it to be straight up challenging for everyone. A character with a +8 Proficiency has an 80% chance of succeeding a normal task. If we used a “Disadvantage” as a penalty, their odds only drop to 71%. Using the Challenging rules, that drops to around 40%.

  • That said, you can still have the Edge on a Challenging roll, which in the case of our +8 Proficiency nets 65% odds.

In short: I wanted highly capable heroic characters but also to keep a sense of human scale and mortality. Fate can be cruel even to the best of the best.

That said, I’ll also be damned if I’m holding you back from running the game you want to run. Feel free to roll with “disadvantage” – you can even cackle with delight, knowing your ruling is thwarting my designs. You can blow up my Twitter feed with how your way was so much fun. I may show a façade of disdain, but truth is I’ll be proud of you.  

Remember: No rules are sacred here. Have fun, and make it yours.

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That’s all I got for this one. Anything you’d like to see me address for future D·10 Toolkit articles? Drop me a line in the comments here or wherever you saw this posted.

If you still haven’t checked out Drive·10, click on the image below! You can grab the free version, or for $2+ you can get the fancy version with extended content (including my Gonzo Mutoid Wasteland Crustpunks setting sheets!) All money raised from D·10 offsets the cost of artwork for our future projects.