Difficulty Checks

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Whenever your character(s) want to do something non-trivial, they will usually have to roll some dice to see:


Proposed New Framework

Please see the discussion page for an alternative way of resolving Difficulty Checks.

Making a Check

Most thinks your character wants to do require effort, expertise, and frequently have a chance of failure. The difficulty of the task is represented by a Target number. In order to succeed at the task, you must roll a skill check with a result equal to or greater than the Target.

You must also spend effort, by default equal to the square root of the Target. This is usually spent out of Wit/Wind, but may be spent out of Focus/Stamina for longer duration efforts. Also, if the task is particularly high or low stress or energy intensity, it may have a multiplier on effort expenditures (greater or less than 1).

If you exceed the Target, you earn Delta equal to your result minus the target. This Delta can be spent to improve the skill result, the specific skill and/or check will tell you what the delta can be used for.

If you miss the target by less than 10, you may still be able to succeed of a sort by spending suckage points. These represent degrading your success in some manner, either significant extra effort.

You can also choose to work extra hard or less hard on a check. Before making the roll you can choose to spend more or less than the quoted effort cost. Every 2 extra points of effort you spend gives you a bonus of 1 on the check, every point less than the quoted effort you spend, you get a -2 penalty on the check.


The total amount of skill points you need to have access to ensure that your character succeeds. Skill points can come from the skills you have acquired through experience, from your die roll, from allies, and from the unique circumstances under which you are attempting to perform a task. Keep in mind that these targets are for minimal success at significant effort, you will need to beat them by 5 to succeed cleanly, and 10 to succeed effortlessly.

-10 DC: A ridiculously easy task, such as remembering your own name or rolling over to avoid drowning in your own vomit. A person of ordinary ability would literally never fail at this task unless she was quite sick, drunk, etc.

-5 DC: A trivially easy task, like writing your name, walking down the street, or finding a radio station that plays acceptable music. A person of ordinary ability having a really bad day might have to concentrate briefly in order to successfully accomplish this task.

0 DC: A casual task, like sweeping the floor, driving to the corner grocery store, or talking politely about the weather. Someone who was unusually klutzy or distracted might manage to screw it up, although this would be rare enough that it would strike most bystanders as rather amusing.

5 DC: An ordinary task, like applying first aid, buying appropriate airline tickets, or convincing a friend to watch a good movie with you. An untrained person of ordinary skill would usually be able to accomplish this task without too much trouble, but failure is possible.

10 DC: A somewhat challenging task, like running a seven-minute mile, driving a truck at night, planning an exotic vacation for twenty people, or convincing an acquaintance to help you move out of your apartment. This task would strain the limits of an untrained person's talent. Success is far from assured, and would require significant effort, concentration, and/or preparation.

15 DC: A task that is challenging enough to be typically reserved for professionals or experts. Examples include teaching children how to scuba dive, repairing a car with unexplained engine failure, safely extracting a wallet from a zipped-up purse being carried on a woman's shoulder, and curing a moderately rare bacterial infection. If an untrained person were so lucky as to succeed at this task, bystanders would be visibly surprised and impressed, or else would assume that the person had some strong natural talent in the relevant arena.

20 DC: A moderately difficult task, which will completely baffle the untrained and offer a worthy challenge for a professional. Examples include programming a commercially successful web browser, winning a lawsuit for punitive damages, grafting skin over second-degree burns without leaving a scar, knocking out a boxer twice your size with a well-placed roundhouse kick, convincing a labor union to call off a strike without receiving any significant concessions, and translating Beowulf into modern Chinese while keeping the rhythm largely intact.

25 DC: An unusually difficult task, which even people who know what they are doing often fail to manage properly. Examples include arresting an armed and fleeing murder suspect, constructing a working industrial laser, inspiring mutiny against a new and unknown but apparently legitimate space captain, or preparing a financial prospectus for a corporation about to issues shares on the stock market.

32 DC: An alarmingly difficult task, which is so hard that even attempting it can make you look foolish unless you have unusually well-developed skills. Examples include performing open heart surgery, developing and testing a new kind of wormhole drive, swimming the English Channel without a wetsuit, founding a cult of fanatics who are personally loyal to you, or overturning a government directive recently issued by a well-connected top-level bureaucrat.

45 DC: A mind-blowingly difficult task. Succeeding at such a task will usually break some kind of record or push the bounds of what was previously thought possible. Examples include breeding and training a horse that wins the Triple Crown, performing the world's first successful spinal cord transplant, hacking into the Pentagon from an otherwise ordinary ATM in Montreal, coordinating the logistics for D-Day, or prompting the Dalai Lama to curse you out and pray for your graphically violent death.

60 DC: A task so God-damned hard as to appear laughable or impossible to an informed observer. Succeeding at such a task will usually open an entirely new field of human endeavor, change the course of history, and/or inspire entire hordes of crackpots to offer endless commentary on your achievement. Examples include solving the problem of consciousness, designing a provably safe self-replicating nanobot with general intelligence, writing a book that persuades people to voluntarily abandon the current market system in favor of a more efficient alternative, or building a rocket capable of interstellar travel using nothing but materials that you personally extracted from the ground and tools that you personally shaped with your hands.

Professional ("NPC") Die Rolls

A professional is someone who has acquired their skill through long, hard, appropriate, repetitive experience. Although they will not be quite as talented as an adventurer of the same general age and rank, they will be much more likely to succeed at an ordinary or mundane task, especially if they are under significant pressure, in a rush, or otherwise at a disadvantage.

Professionals start with exceptionally stable (low standard deviation) skill rolls. If they find themselves on familiar ground or approaching an easy task, they can move even further toward guaranteed victory. For example, a Master Craftsman working in his usual lab could take a free score of 20 instead of rolling 15 + 2d4.

Well-trained Rookie: 3d4

Competent Journeyman: 5 + 2d6

Master Craftsman: 15 + 2d4

Senior Professional: 24 + 1d4

Honored Veteran: 32 + 2d2

Celebrated Grandmaster: 38 + 2d2

Adventurer ("PC") Die Rolls

An adventurer is someone who has acquired her skills through combat, trial by fire, necessity, and unusual circumstances. She will often be able to perform far better than a professional of comparable age and rank. Adventurers, or those who have had at least some noteworthy adventures, are more likely than professionals to push the bounds of human knowledge and achievement. However, they are also unreliable. Adventurers most often roll a d20 to add to their base skill, which has a high standard deviation, and thus they may fail at tasks that are considerably easier than what they can accomplish on their best day. Only when the adventurer is on unusually familiar ground can she roll smaller dice. For example, an adventurer who was using her favorite weapon to fire at a well-known enemy on the deck of her mothership might be able to replace the d20 roll with 5d4.

Experimenting Novice: d20

Talented Beginner: 5 + d20

Courageous Amateur: 10 + d20

Successful Savant: 15 + d20

Seasoned Adventurer: 20 + d20

Storied Champion: 25 + d20

Heroic Leader: 30 + d20

Legendary Pioneer: 35 + d20

Circumstance Bonuses and Penalties

Before the Die Roll

Before the die roll, to cut down on math and meta-gaming, all circumstance bonuses and penalties are rolled into the initial difficulty of the task. For example, rather than saying that "knitting a comfortable sweater" has a DC of 10 and that "knitting using shards of scrap metal instead of a needle" has a circumstance penalty of +8, the GM would just tell you that "knitting a comfortable sweater using only bits of scrap metal as needles is really hard, and has a DC of 18 -- most people couldn't manage it unless they were really damn good at knitting."

After the Die Roll

After the die roll, if your character has achieved a marginal or ordinary success, you may need or want to alter the circumstances slightly to make the task easier. For example, you could pay extra for premium raw materials, work carefully and take twice as much time as you usually would, cut corners so as to increase the risk of injury or malfunctions, eliminate some of the most advanced features or techniques, etc. Such modifications, strictly speaking, do not affect the DC -- they affect the number of fatigue points your character must expend to achieve his/her goals. For more info, see the outcomes section, below.

Getting Aid from Allies


Effortless Success

Usually, if you beat the DC by 10 points or more, your character succeeds at the task effortlessly. You accomplish the goal you set out to, slightly under-budget and ahead of schedule. If you beat the DC by an outrageous amount, i.e., significantly more than 10 points, the GM may allow you to spend the difference on building in extra features (hey, dad, I built a *glow-in-the-dark* motorcycle in my garage!), showing off (I can beat you up with one hand tied behind my back...literally!), or simply impressing the people around you with your skill and efficiency (giving you a bonus to future diplomacy-type rolls).

Ordinary Success

If you beat the DC by 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9, you have achieved an ordinary success. You achieve the goal you set out to accomplish, at full price and taking an ordinary amount of time. You must also spend points from the appropriate fatigue pools in order to bring your total score up to (DC + 10).

For example, if you are attempting to outrace a junior varsity track star, requiring you to Sprint at a DC of 12, you have five ranks in Sprint, and you roll a natural 13, your total score would be 18, meaning that you beat the DC by 6. Since you must ultimately beat the DC by 10, you would spend 10 - 6 = 4 points from Wind to ensure that you cross the finish line first.

Another way of saying the same thing is that your total score needs to be (DC + 10) = (12 + 10) = 22, but your actual score before fatigue points is (Skill + Dice) = (5 + 13) = 18. Since 22 - 18 = 4, you spend 4 fatigue points.

Marginal Success

If you beat the DC by 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 points, you have achieved a marginal success. You will still be able to accomplish your task, but only by taking longer, spending more money, or delivering fewer features than you expected. In addition, you will be severely fatigued by the effort. If you achieve a marginal success you can usually choose to fail instead, you generally still have to spend effort, but you avoid suckage.

Spending Effort

First, spend 5 Effort Points from the appropriate category. For example, if you are attempting to Negotiate, you would lose 5 Wit. If you do not have enough fatigue left in the lowest-level pool, you must deduct points at a 1:1 ratio from the next-highest pool. For example, if you have only 2 Wit left, you would spend 2 Wit and 3 Focus.

Spending Suckage Points

Next, choose some combination of 'suckage' factors to bring your total score, including your +5 bonus from fatigue spending, up to (DC + 10). You can choose any combination of the factors below, but the factors are geometrically cumulative...if you choose three cost penalties, for example, you will wind up paying eight times the cost. All factors must be appropriate. For example, you cannot pay double price for a karate chop or to fire a bullet that you have already purchased. Similarly, in rapid-fire conditions, you cannot choose to spend double the time involved, as this will likely cause you to be interrupted.

1 point -- pay double the cost for materials or services

1 point -- take twice as much time to accomplish the task

1 point -- suffer double the stability penalty in combat or negotiations

1 point -- roll 2d6 and spend down the total shown on the dice in additional effort points

2 points -- reduce the functionality of a device, tactic or program by half

2 points -- Roll 3d20 on the Stamina Wound table or the Embarrassment table; GM chooses which table.

For example, suppose you are trying to buy a wetsuit at a beach resort while seriously intoxicated, which carries a DC of 9, and you have three ranks in Bargain. You roll an 8 giving you a total score of 11, or DC + 2. You need to get from DC + 2 all the way up to DC + 10. The first five points come from Effort...you spend 3 points of Wind walking from store to store, and 2 points of Wit negotiating with various salespeople. You are now at DC + 7, so you have to make up the last three points out of suckage.

You are filthy rich relative to the podunk beach resort (which is part of why you're so drunk), so you spend 2 points on cost penalties. Instead of paying a usual price like $150 for your wetsuit, you will pay $150 * 2 * 2 = $600. For your final Suckage point, you decide to roll 2d6 in additional fatigue. The dice come up [3, 5], so you spend down another 8 points of effort, losing 4 points of Wit and 4 points of Wind.

All together, your score is now at the requirement of DC + 10:

(DC + 10) = (Skill + Dice + Effort + Suckage) (9 + 10) = (3 + 8 + 5 + 4)


If your skill plus your die roll is *less* than the DC, even by one point, you fail at the task, and you cannot accomplish your goal, no matter how many fatigue points or suckage points you spend. For example, suppose you are trying to swim across a creek, at a DC of 5, but you are totally untrained in Swimming, have only one rank in Body, and you roll a 3. Your total roll is (3 + 1) = 4, which is less than 5. At best, you will manage to climb back out of the creek on the same side you started. You cannot cross the creek by swimming.

You may be able to try again later with a different set of allies or a different set of circumstances. Depending on how *much* you miss the DC by, the GM may decide to dock you money for wasted materials, or even to force you to roll against various Wound or Embarrassment tables. Note that failing really, really badly at a task may be safer than just failing at it...if you can't find the "on" button, you're unlikely to hurt yourself. You're also more likely to give up before you spend significant amounts of money or time.

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