What are difficulty levels good for?

edited September 2012 in Play Advice
You all know what I mean: target numbers, DCs, difficulty modifiers like -6 to your roll because this task is very, very hard to do. Obstacles in Burning Wheel. All that stuff that is made out of the DM/GM/Referee person adjudicating the level of difficulty of a task or action that a player's character is making. With or without the rules providing a guideline, either one.

What does this actually add to a game? How is this fun? I have some ideas of my own about why these can be good and why they suck, but I haven't really discussed it with anyone so I'd like to hear some other opinions. If you like games with these kinds of rules, why do you like them? If you know people who like them, what do they seem to like about them?

If you don't like difficulty levels, that's cool, but this isn't a mock-thread, please.

Comments

  • Difficulty Numbers can give flavor to a setting. Burning Wheel takes this approach with its obstacles used to "create a sense of space and logic" (Adventure Burner pg. 264). STALKER also takes this approach as well, and I know HeroWars does with the example difficulties representing parts of the setting, and as a GM, you are advised to place difficulties along these lines.

    Personally, this is my preferred method for difficulty setting (in games, which are "mute" on the subject) in a game where the setting is more than a backdrop for character conflict.

  • edited September 2012
    NOTE: It seems I interpreted the prompt as being about a varibale, GM-determined DC as opposed to a firm, unified DC (a la AW/DW/etc). Think I may have been mistaken - ignore this if I missed the mark entirely.
    I think it allows for the GM to create a wider range of how difficult something is - they can use the system not only to make tasks harder, but to also make them easier, have a pretty good degree of control over just how difficult they want something to feel (and making things harder is of course to help the players feel a greater sense of accomplishment for having succeeded). Modifiers can be added to better simulate the exact situation from whatever the baseline target difficulty is.
    On the other hand, a pro for NOT having them is that everyone knows what a success looks like. Even better, once a roll is made, you know if it's success or failure - whereas when you have them it can allow for the GM to manipulate it or even lie about what his DC is in order to string players along the plot in their heads.
    However, in the hands of a responsible GM who isn't going to do that, I think they're fine.
    One game I like with them is Lady Blackbird. Variable difficult actions happen, but it's restrained to 2-5 (if going by the sheet), so even if the GM is trying to bar something off the option is still potentially attainable. I also remove the possibility of changing the difficulty post-roll by letting them know how hard it is beforehand - while I myself really try not to manipulate it, I mostly do it so it'll catch on with my other players so they aren't tempted to manipulate it, and it seems to have been successful in that regard.

    I think the best thing about DCs for me is that they're simple. As I said, they allow for a range of difficulties, but even games that use set targets like AW try to simulate alternate difficulties through wording. The big example to me is in that very common question of "How is Hack & Slashing a dragon just as easy as a goblin?" Those are two things of varying difficulty that in order to create the higher difficulty, requires a judgment call on the wording of the move itself. Is it actually an attack against the dragon? What would be an attack? Why does the action I take trigger differently in different circumstances? The GM is still adjudicating how difficult something is, just not numerically. DCs allow for a very simple alternative - you're attacking, regardless. It's just that attacking the dragon has a much higher DC to show he's tougher.

    I think both work in their own circumstances though. Like you said, there are both pros and cons.
  • They can be great when:
    - a major theme of the game is whether the characters can do things or not (sometimes this isn't important)
    - the game tells you clearly when to roll and when not to roll for things
    - when you roll, the stakes are relatively high or the consequences are significant
    - there are very clear guidelines for setting difficulties, rather than the GM being left to make things up
    - the difficulties are clearly different from each other, in terms of odds, rather than some being basically the same
    - interesting things happen no matter the result (success, fail, mixed result, whatever the outcome)

    In those cases, it can be a really compelling way to generate drama and allow players to make strategic choices about what kinds of risks are worth taking.
  • J. Walton has some good stuff.

    I would add that rolling dice to see if you win is a significant amount of gambling, and gambling is extremely popular and fun.
  • I might add that getting to modify the difficulty setting can be a reward for taking advantage of fictional positioning: jumping up on a table to get the higher ground bonus in a fight, reincorporating what you learned about a dude's motivation to make it easier to persuade him to help you with something, etc.
  • edited September 2012
    NOTE: It seems I interpreted the prompt as being about a varibale, GM-determined DC as opposed to a firm, unified DC (a la AW/DW/etc).
    Yes! You are not mistaken. A static difficulty level means only that the players choose what they are good/bad at during character creation.
    Here, I definitely mean having the GM determine whether something is HARD or EASY during the game and thus influencing the resolution probabilities.
  • Difficulty Numbers can give flavor to a setting. Burning Wheel takes this approach with its obstacles used to "create a sense of space and logic" (Adventure Burner pg. 264). STALKER also takes this approach as well, and I know HeroWars does with the example difficulties representing parts of the setting, and as a GM, you are advised to place difficulties along these lines.

    Personally, this is my preferred method for difficulty setting (in games, which are "mute" on the subject) in a game where the setting is more than a backdrop for character conflict.

    Cool, thanks for the AdBu citation, I'll have a look. Can I ask how you communicate these difficulty numbers to the players? Like, do you mix a DN into a description, do they only find out when they do stuff? Do you give vague hints and clues? How much are players able to weigh DNs when they consider different options in dealing with the setting?

    Other people feel free to answer this as well.

    In my mind I'm thinking of something like, in a D&D sandbox campaign, the players might be able to find dungeons that are way too dangerous for their level, but they go in, find some bad-ass monsters and then they can flee and decide that "this dungeon is way too hard, we need to find an easier one!" But there's no DNs there (or not in D&D, anyway, I think I've been told they are important in a RuneQuest sandbox). Can DNs serve a similar purpose in your games, or is it totally different?
  • Max: I honestly hadn't considered their ease of use. Is it a matter of you as GM not wanting to have to consider possible/not possible, so that you can just set a high difficulty for something unusual and then the decision is out of your hands and the game moves along quickly? Is speed a particular issue? (Like, "you do what? Fuck it, you need 3 successes, roll it, let's go, hurry up"?)
  • They can be great when: (snip)

    In those cases, it can be a really compelling way to generate drama and allow players to make strategic choices about what kinds of risks are worth taking.
    So basically, all those things notwithstanding, if the risks are the same for everything, it doesn't much matter which one you pick, but if you know the difficulties, the risks, and the rewards beforehand, and they are all different, you can make a meaningful choice about what you want your character to do. Right?

    How do you communicate risk/reward to the players?

    I'm getting the distinct impression you guys all support deciding on the difficulty numbers before the player makes her final decision as to whether or not to roll. Is that the case?
  • Ben: Do you see this reward for fictional positioning as something different than a reward for "good roleplaying"? Is it a sub-category? Or something very different?
  • They can be great when: (snip)

    So basically, all those things notwithstanding, if the risks are the same for everything, it doesn't much matter which one you pick, but if you know the difficulties, the risks, and the rewards beforehand, and they are all different, you can make a meaningful choice about what you want your character to do. Right?

    How do you communicate risk/reward to the players?

    I'm getting the distinct impression you guys all support deciding on the difficulty numbers before the player makes her final decision as to whether or not to roll. Is that the case?
    I certainly support pre-set difficulties. Choosing a plan, and then having a GM set a ridiculous target number because it messes with the "plot" soured me on GM set target numbers. (But that's anecdotal and brain-damagy)

    I like difficulty numbers because it allows the game designer to flavor the choices he'd like to see the players take. Encouraging certain behaviors is one tool in the bucket, right?

  • edited September 2012
    You can set them before you choose to roll or not, honestly. Depends on the game and the vibe at the table.

    MG has that "no weasels" rule, right? Once you've committed to a course of action, you have to roll for it. In those cases, it's totally cool to decide what you're doing and then figure out the difficulty. In those cases, sometimes the GM does more stuff in the vein of "tell them the possible consequences and ask" or otherwise makes clear what the stakes are in the course of play, yeah? Or the entire group can collectively join the fun of "let's see if we all get totally fucked this time," with the GM not really trying to estimate the difficulty before really engaging with resolution of the determined course of action.

    PLAYER: "How difficult is that?"
    GM: "I'm not sure. That's what you're gonna do?"
    PLAYER: "Uh... yeah, I'll give it a shot." [picks up dice]
    GM: "Okay, well... [consults table] looks like you need 5 successes."
    PLAYER: "Holy crap! Uh, here goes, I guess..."

    But in those situations, you need a social contract where each side won't back down from engaging the mechanics just because the odds are slim. There are social contracts where the players are expected to usually act in a mechanically rational fashion. I find those super boring, but some people really dig it. If the mechanics are really interesting and provide tactical support for what I want, that's cool. But I'm also fine just ignoring the tactically optimal decisions and just going with my gut or what I think would be interesting.

    This works best, of course, when all outcomes are interesting, because there's less dread of failure being totally unfun. In games where failure really sucks, you're pretty much required to attempt tactically probable decisions, even if you don't choose the action with the absolute best odds. But in games where failure is just another result, you may not even be required to advocate for your character's success and can choose not to worry about the difficulty before committing to actions. In those cases, the difficulty is just a semi-objective or principled way you determine what happens.
  • I don't want to sound like I'm mocking...but

    I really don't see the point in raising the difficulty of a dice roll. When you roll dice there is already a chance of success or failure or you wouldn't be rolling the dice. You have all the suspense of gambling already, what's the fun in making you statistical chance of success less?

    If the situation was framed as: " ok so you can take the shot from the roof but it's a steep angle -2 to the roll, or you can shoot from the crowd up close for +1 but you will be seen" then that's a tactical choice totally risk versus reward, and that's cool.

    However where is the fun on just saying this roll is harder then the rest? Most GM's just arbitrarily push up the difficultly because it "should" be harder. A more difficult roll isn't like putting a video game on hard mode, it's not speeding up the enemy's movement or something, it just makes the chance of faliure greater.

    So my view is you need a really well balanced, crunch heavy system to make difficulties make sense. Without that structure they add very little to the game, in my view.
  • In my mind I'm thinking of something like, in a D&D sandbox campaign, the players might be able to find dungeons that are way too dangerous for their level, but they go in, find some bad-ass monsters and then they can flee and decide that "this dungeon is way too hard, we need to find an easier one!" But there's no DNs there (or not in D&D, anyway, I think I've been told they are important in a RuneQuest sandbox). Can DNs serve a similar purpose in your games, or is it totally different?
    Combat DNs exist in D&D, it's called Armor Class.
  • Bullet points!

    *Any GM who doesn't set the DC ahead of time should have their license revoked. In many games you should announce the consequence of failure before rolling, or at least have one in mind. (See BW, SotC.) Note that in old-school dungeoncrawl type games, there isn't "failing forward" in the modern sense but there is a default and de facto failure consequence of "you waste time," and time is a precious commodity.

    *Even more importantly, the setting of the DC (or Obstacle, or DN, or whatever), has to come from consulting the fiction, not from the GM's judgment about how hard something "should" be. The group can do it collaboratively without losing anything, really. (See Mouse Guard or the FATE adjective ladder or the DC charts in 3.X D&D / Pathfinder.)

    *Fictional positioning bonuses == "good roleplaying" bonuses, to me. +2 for standing on a table = +2 for telling a convincing lie, or whatever.

    Matt
  • In most texts that's how good roleplaying bonuses are described. I think they're often misnamed.
  • In most texts that's how good roleplaying bonuses are described. I think they're often misnamed.
    Yeah, true that! Do you like "fictional positioning bonus" better? Sort of awkward to say. What would be better, I wonder?
  • edited September 2012
    Yeah "fictional positioning bonus" is bad. Actually I think I remember D&D3 calling it a "situational modifier". That's not too bad, covers everything.
  • Yes! As an aside, I actually really like D&D3's skill system. It's perfectly functional and produces good, logical outcomes if you actually follow the rules and consult the fiction when setting DCs. What it lacks is any sort of currency to go with it, like Fate points or Artha. Relatively easy to add in if you know what you're doing.

    (I also don't like the way helping always has such a low DC. I prefer "5 less than the main roller's DC.")

    Matt
  • I kinda like helping having a low DC; it encourages players to get involved in each others' stuff. If the DC for helping was only a little lower than the main roller's DC, then any character who is really great at something ends up working alone 99.9% of the time. Which is kind of boring, and not great for getting PCs to interact with each other or step outside their individual comfort zones.

    But if Rocko the Cave Troll can be a serviceable lab assistant for Doctor SCIENCE! in a pinch, awesomeness can ensue.
  • Max: I honestly hadn't considered their ease of use. Is it a matter of you as GM not wanting to have to consider possible/not possible, so that you can just set a high difficulty for something unusual and then the decision is out of your hands and the game moves along quickly? Is speed a particular issue? (Like, "you do what? Fuck it, you need 3 successes, roll it, let's go, hurry up"?)
    It's less that I don't want to consider possible/not possible (and would almost definitely not result in just setting unusual actions high) and more of it being a harder time deciding on that when it's fuzzy. In the DW dragon/goblin question it's obvious whether it's possible/not possible, but there are middle ground points where there are good reasons both for and against. I'm blanking right now, but if I remember a good example I'll edit it in. DCs allow for a spectrum of difficulty, unlike fixed difficulty (eg AW) which your only means of control is Possible/Not Possible. Arguably, my option on those fringe cases where you want something that MIGHT be possible if they do really well would be to write a custom move around achieving that.

    Speed is also an aspect sometimes for me personally, but this may be from having spent, at this point, the majority of a pretty small RPGing career working and thinking in D&D and being quite comfortable slinging around DCs and knowing in general that what I just said emulates the difficulty I'm going for, so it's assisted by familiarity with it - I've only run one session of AW and played only a couple sessions of hacks of it, so I'm new at the interpreting the definition of move triggers on the fly. I suspect this may shift some for me as I do it more, but I suppose general familiarity is, for now, a plus for DCs I guess.

    Personally I'm a big fan of the fixed stuff so far, I'm just trying to think of some potential pros for the variable difficulties.
  • edited September 2012
    I kinda like helping having a low DC; it encourages players to get involved in each others' stuff. If the DC for helping was only a little lower than the main roller's DC, then any character who is really great at something ends up working alone 99.9% of the time. Which is kind of boring, and not great for getting PCs to interact with each other or step outside their individual comfort zones.

    But if Rocko the Cave Troll can be a serviceable lab assistant for Doctor SCIENCE! in a pinch, awesomeness can ensue.
    Fair enough! I should add that I'm a big fan of allowing helping with skills other than the main one, as long as it makes sense fictionally.

    ETA: "Rocko help nice Doctor lift giant wriggling purple worm into vat!"

    Also, I'd argue that 5 less is not "a little lower." That's 25 percentage points!

    Matt
  • Also, I'd argue that 5 less is not "a little lower." That's 25 percentage points!
    Yeah, but helping someone only gives them a +2, which ain't that much in the grand scheme of things. It's enough to be nice to get, but not enough to be terribly unbalancing. I'm inclined to just make it easy, because I like the knock-on effect so much.

  • MG has that "no weasels" rule, right? Once you've committed to a course of action, you have to roll for it.
    Yes, but MG has rules that synergise with each other. In this case, relevant companions to "no weasels" IMO are:
    - "PCs themselves never fail, they always succeed with a twist or a condition" (so the story doesn't stop when fail the roll)
    - "failed rolls are essential to advancement" (so it's to the player's advantage to fail on purpose)
    - "use your traits against yourself to gain extra actions in Player Turn" (which makes it a good strategy to hinder yourself with your trait if a roll is too difficult to make anyway, again, it's to the player's advantage to fail on purpose).

    Compare to BW(G), which has no Player Turn or advancement via failed rolls (having instead advancement via difficult rolls), so it doesn't force "no weasels". The GM first determines the Obstacle and what happens on succes and what happens on failure (ensuring that both are interesting) and communicates these to the player. Then the player commits to rolling or not.

    I'm more comfortable with the player being told the Obstacle number/DC/estimate of difficulty before they commit to rolling, because that there may be differences between the GMs imagination and the player's imagination as to how difficult something is.
  • Thank you everyone! But please, keep the main question in mind: What do GM-adjudicated difficulty levels ADD to a game? How are they FUN? What is it specifically about play that they make better?

    Do they promote helping? Do they encourage teamwork? It sounds like they might, if done well.

    Do they help describe the world? What happens in GM and player have a difference of imagination over how difficult something is? Does that promote more fleshing-out of the fiction? Isn't that just an excuse for an argument?

    Jonathan, did you just say that semi-objectively building a difficulty number out of the fiction when nobody cares if their character succeeds is cool? How are you not a weirdo?

    Also:
    Yes! As an aside, I actually really like D&D3's skill system. It's perfectly functional and produces good, logical outcomes if you actually follow the rules and consult the fiction when setting DCs. What it lacks is any sort of currency to go with it, like Fate points or Artha some Burning Wheel. Relatively easy to add in some Burning Wheel if you know what you're doing Burning Wheel.
    This is what you meant to post, isn't it? (";p", as they say)
  • GUMSHOE uses difficulty levels, especially for general abilities which are the action (as opposed to information) influenced rolls. In some games, such as Trail of Cthulhu or Fear Itself, the GM doesn't tell the PCs the difficulty level before the roll (although they know the scale is from 2 to 8 with 4 being the usual value and at least 5 is the Mythos is involved). This heightens the suspense and horror. In other games, Esoterrorists or Night's Black Agents, the GM can share the difficulty level because this is about competent agents making informed decisions.
  • Thank you everyone! But please, keep the main question in mind: What do GM-adjudicated difficulty levels ADD to a game? How are they FUN? What is it specifically about play that they make better?
    They provide:

    1) tension (will I, or won't I succeed this time? is everything as it seems, or have I encountered something different than I would expect? gambling).

    2) story structure, if played well (that is, put more difficult encounters around the end of the session, etc. Arguably set difficulty levels do it better, for example "How we came to live here").

    3) immersion (test my character against the world and see how good they are _really_; get an idea of how much better this duelist is than the average thug; etc).

    4) intellectual challenge, a puzzle ("So, doing it X way is hard. What if I try to do Y?" You test yourself and your ingenuity, not your character.)
  • Also, I'd argue that 5 less is not "a little lower." That's 25 percentage points!
    Yeah, but helping someone only gives them a +2, which ain't that much in the grand scheme of things. It's enough to be nice to get, but not enough to be terribly unbalancing. I'm inclined to just make it easy, because I like the knock-on effect so much.

    Well, I guess what I'm really saying is—and this is very on-topic—it breaks my suspension of disbelief that it's always equally easy to help, in all situations forever. I'd be fine with -10 to the DC of helping, in fact—it's just that the DC of helping should reflect the fictional situation in some way.

    Think of it this way: it breaks the overall logic of 3.X. Everything else in the skill system has difficulties based on "how hard is the task you're attempting." Suddenly we have one single AW-style fixed difficulty? Even when the skill bonuses are advancing?

    Relatedly, from a purely game balance point of view: after a couple of levels* people have +10's to a lot of skills, and I don't feel the +2 from helping on a roll that might fail should ever be purely automatic.

    But anyway, I feel very strongly that a well-communicated, well-grounded adjudication of DC or Ob helps the fiction and the group's shared conception of the fiction. This is why I hate hate hate 4E's skill DC rules. They are purely mechanics-driven.

    And, Johnstone—doesn't have to be BW-flavored currency to make the skill system "go." Could be FATE, TSoY, TRoS, even Polaris-style.

    Matt

    *By the way, this is another thing about difficulty levels: they let you know when the PCs have exceeded "normal person" power levels. Cue E6, discussion of how Aragorn was about 5th-level, etc.
  • Jonathan, did you just say that semi-objectively building a difficulty number out of the fiction when nobody cares if their character succeeds is cool? How are you not a weirdo?
    That WOULD be weird. No, I said that -- in a game where failure is interesting -- the players can be strongly invested in seeing whether the characters succeed or fail without being firmly committed to any particular outcome. Surely that's not too controversial, yeah?
  • I don't actually think it's all that weird (unusual, yes), but I was mostly just joshin' ya to see if you would expand on it a little.

    So anyway, the reason I'm asking for other perspectives on GM-set difficulty levels is because I was thinking about them the other day and I had two thoughts:

    1. GM-set difficulty levels are really just an excuse to be a dick. This is an extreme example but, imagine I am running a game and you are playing yourself in the game. You try to do something you have some skill at and I say "Well, but... you're a cunt. I'm just being realistic here. You're basically incompetent and a prat, so -6 to your roll for difficulty." Like, what the fuck is that? If the player chooses Photography 65% or hard+2 at the beginning of the game, why is the GM fucking around with that later on? Because "realistically" some tasks are more difficult? Sounds like bullshit to me. HOWEVER...

    2. I also like Burning Wheel. So what is it that Obstacle ratings do in BW that I like? And I think it is because they are exactly that: obstacles to be overcome. It's the mechanics helping to describe an obstacle which the players can then strategize over and attempt to surmount, or avoid, or circumvent if they can find other obstacles that are easier to overcome but still lead to the same goal. It creates a different kind of landscape for the players to interact with than just the fiction alone does.

    And so I had a third thought:

    3. Maybe there are other good reasons to use variable, GM-set difficulty levels in a game that I haven't thought of. And it seems like there are!
  • The whole concept of variable difficulty compared to risk versus reward structures was a key design point when I developed FUBAR a few years back.

    The concept is very visceral and visual. The difficulty for the entire story is defined by a pile of tokens...the more token there are, the more you have to accomplish in order to reach your final objective. The GM can throw simple things at the characters, by using up a single token from the pool, but the character will have to go through heaps of these before they see any real progress. Otherwise, the GM can up the ante with more difficult challenges that use up the pile of tokens quicker. It doesn't matter what types of actions are undertaken, if hey move the story along, they eat away at the pile of tokens.

    Players can decide whether the take the slow and careful route, or take big risks for a quicker pay-off. The slow route suffers the risk, that the characters might only find themselves eating away at the pile slower than the pile's refresh rate (ie. they'll never actually accomplish their goal until they take at least a few minor risks).

    The players see the pile and at a metagame level they visually understand how close they are to finishing the "quest/mission/scenario".

    You could easily apply the same concept to D&D where each token in the pile might represent +5 difficulty, in total you might have 30 to 40 tokens...if someone wants to attempt a task and the GM assigns a difficulty of 10, just take two tokens from the pile...if someone else wants to attempt a task and the GM assigns a difficulty of 30, take six tokens from the pile. Every time the characters take a break and replenish their health/spells/etc. Roll a die and replenish the pool of tokens to reflect the opposition regathering it's strength.
  • What size die?
  • If I were to port this system across to D&D I'd probably use a d20 then consult a chart (since it fits with the existing structure of the game), where one axis is the number rolled, and the other axis is the number of tokens missing from the pile. The higher the roll, the more tokens are returned...the more tokens are missing, the more tokens tend to be returned.

    Or maybe roll a die with the highest number of faces less than the number of missing tokens...5 tokens missing from the pool, roll a d4...9 tokens missing from the pool, roll a d8...15 tokens missing from the pool, roll a d12...(d12 would be the highest).

    Thee might also be an automatic refresh rate. "Every time the players rest, restore a number of tokens equal to the number of characters".

    Just spit-balling here.

    You get this sort of effect in Agon.
  • edited September 2012
    Yeah, that kind of pacing mechanic seems totally legit to me. But it's also a case of the fiction being more an interpretation of the mechanics (the GM's budget) than the mechanic (difficulty) being a strict interpretation of the fiction, right?
  • I see your point Johnstone, I guess it works for FUBAR because it aims to replicate the action/revenge movie genre, and since you know how long until the end of a movie, you therefore know how long you have to resolve the storyline. This game was designed heavily with a feedback loop in mind between mechanics and fiction...both feeding back off one another and into one another.

    I've looked at other ways to do this is games...such as the notion that an action might have a fixed difficulty, and variability to that fixed difficulty is evened out over the course of the session. As an example...If you run a few easy actions early on, you can expect it to be balanced out by a high difficulty action later....or if you succeed against a massive difficulty early on, you might have pretty clear sailing for the rest of the story.
  • No I mean I like it. It encourages strategy and reinforces the social contract at the heart of the game (emulating a movie genre). But I like it for the same reasons (more or less) that I like Burning Wheel, so it's not changing my mind about what I dislike about difficulty levels (or who knows, maybe it is and I haven't figured it out yet!).
  • The only time I ever actually find myself wanting difficulty levels in a game is when I'm either prepping or designing it and I feel like that sort of mechanic would make a useful crutch. Allowing the GM to assign difficulty levels on the fly means you always have an excuse to disallow or hand-wave away actions you hadn't accounted for in prep/design. I can imagine how the mechanic would appeal to others, but it only ever appeals to me in the context of embarrassing laziness.

    Take, for instance, a game that offers a "Computers" skill; you have to roll less than or equal to Intelligence+Computers to succeed. You imagine that players will use it for minor techie stuff, like cracking passwords on an office computer or something. But your players defy your expectations: One figures he should roll it whenever she checks her email, so you're like, "Uh, whatever, make that at +5." Another figures he should be able to use it to hack into Pentagon computers and take control of US missile defense systems, so you're like, "Er, that's pretty hard. Make that at -5." If the rule system doesn't otherwise explicitly provide a way to indicate which tasks are within the realm of reason for a skill, difficulty modifiers can help you make rulings on the fly.

    As a player, though, I pretty much hate difficulty modifiers because I dislike keeping track of multiple figures in my head when I'm trying to pretend to be an elf or whatever.
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