Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Saving Throw DCs in DCC

Okay, this is a crosspost from a thread on the Goodman Games Forums, because I thought it might be of some value to readers here. It related to setting saving throw DCs when converting materials from other systems (in this case, Barrowmaze).

I wrote:
For saves, use the "average man" standard, where the average man is a schlub in a 0-level funnel:
DC 5: The character succeeds 80% of the time.
DC 10: The character succeeds 55% of the time.
DC 15: The character succeeds 30% of the time.
DC 20: The character succeeds 5% of the time.
Assuming that a natural 20 always succeeds, DCs over 20 represent cases where even a more powerful being has a reduced chance of success. A character with a +2 bonus to Fort saves has a 15% chance of making DC 20, but only a 5% chance of making DC 22....the same as the peasant.
In general, if a failed save results in killing the character outright, or removing them from play, a lower save DC is often appropriate. 
If a failed save results in a change to the status quo that promotes more interesting play, a higher save DC is often appropriate.
IOW, the DC reflects, in part, whether or not you want the save to succeed or fail more often. If you have a way to telegraph the effect, and the level of danger, a high DC can also increase table tension. If there is a way to avoid having to make the save, or to alter the odds of the roll, so much the better.
Remember that save bonuses in DCC don't inflate like they do in some games - a 10th level warrior has a +6 bonus to Fort saves, and nothing else that high. It is barely possible to get up to +12 with an 18 Stamina, an 18 starting Luck, and the right birth augur. The odds are good that you will never see such a thing fairly rolled. You don't have to make save DCs excessive to make them work.

It might seem wrong to include "insignificant" DCs (such as DC 5) for skill checks, or even saves, in the game. Don't fall for that argument.

For DCC, skill checks are made with a 1d20 if you are "trained" and 1d10 if you are not. It should be obvious that there is a significant chance of failure for a DC 5 check using 1d10.

In addition, if penalties for armor apply, DC 5 might be something simple for the unarmored wizard, but difficult indeed for the warrior wearing platemail. The DC reflects the nature of the task in this case, such as climbing a rough wall or swimming across a relatively modest pool. This in turn helps make the armor you choose to wear into an interesting choice, because there are direct and obvious consequences apart from just how hard you are to hit in combat.

As a saving throw, a DC 5 might represent a small chance of something very, very bad happening to you. For instance, if you were fighting a skeleton and each time it hit you there was a DC 5 Will save to avoid permanently losing 1d24 XP....which would become hp for the monster....that save is significant. Even if it doesn't result in a PC losing a level, the lost XP deficit must be "made up" before the PC can progress any further. If those bonus hp are permanent until used, there is an "in story" reason to inflate the skeleton's hit points, thus making it likely that the PCs will require multiple saves - the un-dead creature has a pool of extra vitality it has stolen from others.

Dungeon Crawl Classics has a reputation for being deadly, but remember that your goal is neither to kill characters nor to preserve them. It is, instead, to provide the players with an interesting set of choices, within an interesting context, and then following to see where their choices lead them.

EDIT: As a bonus, when the DC really is 18 or higher, the players know that the shit has hit the fan. Keeping those DCs down means that, when you do not, it has a serious impact at the table.

SECOND EDIT: Consider an Agility check of DC 1. Characters without a penalty do not even need to roll, as they cannot fail. Those burdened by armor, or with low Agility scores (as a result of Spellburn, perhaps?) do need to roll. The chance of failure might be slim (max 15% if just due to low Agility), but the effects could be dire.

And what if this was a check that was required on the way into an encounter where a PC Spellburns the hell out of her Wizard or Elf? What was inconsequential before may well become consequential. Conversely, these minor difficulties reaching an encounter area may limit how much Spellburn the player is willing to accrue.

It has been claimed that "the encounter" is the unit of play for role-playing games, but hopefully this example shows how encounters bleed into each other. A DC 5 Strength check, a DC 2 Agility check, and a DC 4 Stamina check leading to the dragon's lair might seem insignificant, but these things are not really four separate encounters. They are part of an organic this case, a whole that greatly hampers armor-wearers and Spellburners (if they have to leave via the same route).


  1. Makes good sense. What if a warrior or dwarf could burn STR towards an attack. Resting would them allow them to regain their strength points burned. If the wizard can use them for Spellburn, why couldn't the other classes also use these.
    Yes, I understand that the Mighty Deed die is for this effect.
    There just seems to be two dynamics going on in DCC. One for the warrior and dwarf and the other of the wizard.
    Both lending to a great game in all.

    1. One of the hidden gems in the DCC system is that each class has a different "feel", which is brought about by its differing mechanics. Give every class Deeds, a Luck Die, Spellburn, and the power to Lay on Hands or Turn the Unholy and you reduce much of what makes the game work, IMHO. That a warrior can sometimes burn Personality for extra damage is good enough for me!

      Related, and perhaps less obvious: Each class has a built-in trap that the player can fall into by pushing her luck too far. Sure, the Thief has a Luck Die, but using means that his Luck will eventually run out. Yes, the Warrior has great crits, hit points, and Mighty Deeds, but using them means that she is more likely to suffer a critical hit herself. The Wizard can Spellburn....but what happens once his stats are all reduced and he has to cross a chasm or a river, make a Fort save to avoid disease, or face more enemies? The Cleric has phenomenal power, but using it means her god gets to send her on quests and otherwise interfere with her life with astounding frequency.

      Don't discount the Luck Die of the Thief or the "I don't lose spells, but I do accumulate Disapproval" of the Cleric. There are more than two dynamics going on.

  2. The d10 for unskilled is an oft-forgotten gem of the DCC skill system. It keeps starting occupation relevant, and with the dice chain, a savvy judge can reward inter-session activities. Say the gongfarmer/warrior spends some time studying at the temple, and they get an Int check to earn +1d to skill checks relevant to that area of study.

    That the skills system is all of one page yet has such broad utility proves that the Dark Master channeled fell forces to ink this grimoire.

    1. Yup. But once you start looking at the numbers, it becomes obvious just how cool a system that is. Instead of having to inflate numbers to make a character seem skilled, even a DC 5 can separate the wheat from the chaff.

  3. This is a great breakdown. I was working on the funnel I'm currently running and considering eliminating some of the seemingly less important DC checks. But now I'm reconsidering some of those choices. I too almost forgot the d10/d20 skill check mechanic and I too definitely had moments of doubt regarding low DCs.