Do you sometimes apply modifiers to a check for inherent difficulty?

Do you sometimes apply modifiers to a check for inherent difficulty?

Do you sometimes apply modifiers to a check for inherent difficulty?

For example, if a PC is actively searching for a hidden lookout that is well camouflaged, do you apply something like -1 or -2 Forward to the check?

I feel like you don’t, but I’m not sure how to handle this.

It seems to me that way too many questions of DR would imply that I must reveal the hidden creature :

What is about to happen? –> Alarm raised by lookout

What should I be on the lookout for? –> hidden lookout

What here is not what it appears to be? > hidden lookout

17 thoughts on “Do you sometimes apply modifiers to a check for inherent difficulty?”

  1. I wouldn’t modify it. Certainly, if they are specifically looking for something, Discern Realities would be triggered. It would have to be super well hidden to avoid detection by someone who is examining the area. If they use one of the questions you mention, that still doesn’t mean you have to spell it out for them. Only that you point them to it.

    “You see the edge of something that might be a door.”

    The goal is to fill their lives with adventure. Hiding things from them may not accomplish that. There are endless ways to make life hard for them even after they spot the enemy.

  2. I guess so. So you’d go something like: “You spot vines and leaves that seem to gather in an unnatural pattern.”

    Or you’d go straight to “You notice a humanoid form that obviously tried its best to camouflage itself with vines and leaves?”

  3. To make things more difficult, I add difficulty to the fiction. This sets up a situation where the PC must meet additional requirements or make a preperatory roll, such as Defy Danger.

    The relevant GM moves are:

    Tell them requirements and ask

    Tell them consequences and ask

    For example,

    GM: “Okay, Aeron, you’re approaching where you think the enemy camp might be. What does your experience say about how this Orc tribe protects its camps?”

    Aeron: “They probably have a hidden look out!”

    GM: “That sounds right. What do you want to do about that?”

    Aeron: “I guess I’ll try to take out the lookout.”

    GM: “They would be hidden. How do you stop them from spotting you before you spot them?”

    Aeron: “[Elven swear word]! I guess I’ll stay low and shift from tree to tree and look for signs of tracks or camoflage.”

    GM: “Okay, that sounds like Defy Danger with Dex to stay hidden.”

    Aeron: “Can’t I just discrern realities to find them?”

    GM: “Yes, but they’d almost certainly find you too, while you’re too far to stop them from raising an alarm. Sneaking will give you a chance to discern without being seen in return.”

    Aeron: “Okay, here goes…. ” [Clatter of dice].

  4. Here’s what Vincent Baker has to say about this (from Apocalypse World)

    “Here’s a custom threat move. People new to the game occasionally ask me for this one. It’s general, it modifies nearly every other move:

    Things are tough. Whenever a players’ character makes a move, the MC judges it normal, difficult, or seriously difficult. If it’s difficult, the player takes -1 to the roll. If it’s seriously difficult, the player takes -2 to the roll.

    Several groups in playtest wanted this move or one like it. All of them abandoned it after only one session. It didn’t add anything fun to the game, but did add a little hassle to every single move. So it’s a legal custom move, of course, and you can try it if you like, but I wouldn’t expect you to stick with it.”

  5. “It seems to me that way too many questions of DR would imply that I must reveal the hidden creature :”

    That’s right, they do. And that’s intentional. Be generous with the truth. Give the players the tools they need to be able to make informed decisions. Blundering into a hidden lookout is not interesting. How do you get around that lookout? That’s interesting.

    When you get to the point of answering the Discern Realities questions, you shouldn’t still be thinking about how to hide the truth from the players. They’ve earned it.

  6. I’ll add to what others have said in that I am very generous with information. The exciting part of an adventure is finding out what the characters do with information, not whether or not they learn information.

    If you want something to be more difficult you can also modify your DR answers a bit:

    What is about to happen? You hear the creaking sound of a bowstring being drawn.

    What should I be on the lookout for? This looks like the perfect place for an ambush. You feel like you’re being watched.

    What here is not what it appears to be? Just up ahead it looks like the ground has been purposely obscured with leaves and debris.

    In these cases you’re still giving information, and the information will most likely cause the character to act. Just saying there is a hidden lookout is a little boring.

  7. I like what Alan says.

    It seems to me that way too many questions of DR would imply that I must reveal the hidden creature

    The flipside is true as well. If they fail DR then you can make as hard a move as you like to show the consequences of them not seeing the lookout.

  8. I find I sometimes give a modifier based on the approach taken. If they are doing something “the hard way” or not taking into account some fictional challenge then I may warn them that a -1 may apply to the roll. For example: The thief has suffered a severe leg injury and decides to try to run around a corner (dex based defy danger) to avoid an approaching guard. I may warn that with the leg injury I would make them roll with a -1 penalty, but if they hide behind the curtain (int based defy danger) I would let the roll proceed as normal. For me it always comes back to the fiction.

  9. I don’t. The rolls are for when there’s uncertainty. If there’s modifiers which would make it easy enough, they just do it. If it’s too hard, they’ll need to tell me how they make it possible to roll.

  10. I avoid using any sort of modifiers (except Ongoing or Forward as per the rules). My primary reason for this is to shift the focus from dice rolls being all about succeeding or failing, to dice rolls being about consequences and cause and effect. The heroes in our game “succeed” all the time, oftentimes even on a 6-. But the cost and consequence of that 6- “success” is severe.

    Where I’m going with this, and modifiers in general, is that modifiers are firmly embedded in a binary success-failure mindset. When players (or GM’s) are considering modifiers they are focusing on what makes a task more, or less likely to succeed instead of focusing on what are the interesting results of taking a specific course of action.

  11. John Lewis you just bent my mind back the right way. I truly like viewing moves through the lense of “success… but at what cost?” I can’t say how many times I’ve been frustrated in trad games by rolling a failure then watching the world go by. E.g., save vs. paralysis.

    On the original topic, I might modify a roll but not based on the difficulty of the task. I would keep it player focused and modify based on player-specific actions or capabilities. Did they use a dowsing rod to help find a secret door in that dungeon? Also, I like the mechanic of advantage/disadvantage in this (best or worst 2 out of 3d6) to keep it fresh.

  12. In our game if a player comes up with a creative way to “assist” themselves in a task (like the aforementioned dowsing rod) it impacts the way I describe the outcome as opposed to impacting the dice roll. As an example:

    Situation 1: Character is searching for a secret door.

    10+: After several minutes you find a secret door and deactivate the trap.

    7-9: After a half hour or so you find a secret door, however it’s trapped.

    6-: You find a secret door the hard way, by triggering the trap on it!

    Situation 2: Character uses a “dowsing rod” to help find a secret door.

    10+: You instantly detect a secret door on the far wall.

    7-9: After a couple moments concentrating, the dowsing rod points to the far wall.

    6-: The dowsing rod shakes, then shatters into pieces!

    When I’m looking at these kind of situations I like to consider the “big picture” of the action. In my mind a dowsing rod might make detecting a secret door quicker and easier but not alert the user to traps. Conversely, searching the old fashion way may reveal a trap but it isn’t done quickly.

    Ultimately if a player brings up anything that they think should help or hinder them in their task I modify the results, not the die roll.

  13. Alan Barclay: solid!

    Another element to consider is: what’s prompting the PC to attempt finding the concealed lookout in the first place? Like, what GM move did you make that pointed toward them trying to Discern Realities (or whatever). The relative hardness of that GM move is more important and meaningful than a numeric modifier to the eventual roll.

    E.g. the PCs are making a Perilous Journey (using the standard move, not Perilous Wilds or anything). You decide that the trouble they encounter will be a small camp of deserters from the king’s army. They’re serious folk and know their business, who’ve fallen into a bit of banditry because fuck it, and they’ve got a sentries hidden along the main trade route.

    If the scout player rolls a 6-, you just go with hard application of put them in a spot (probably with some damage for emphasis). “As you enter the defile, arrows rain down from the trees, you’re surrounded, can’t even tell how many of them, oh crap Bilshi the porter just took an arrow and went down, what do you do?” They’re gonna have to Discern Realities to just get basic tactical information like “who is attacking us.”

    If the scout player rolls a 10+, they get the drop on trouble, right? But these are skilled soldiers, camouflaged and dug in, so spotting them “quick enough to let you get the drop on it” doesn’t mean the scout has them cold… it means the scout notices something is afoot and has the initiative. Basically, you owe the character an opportunity. So, like, “The path through the wood comes to a defile, perfect place for an ambush… as you sneak up on it, you spot a weird patch of brush up on the top of the ravine… it doesn’t look natural and your spidey senses are tingling, what do you do?” They’ve got the initiative, but they’re probably going to have to Discern Realities just to figure out that, yeah, that’s an ex-soldier camouflaged up there and there are likely others nearby.

    On a 7-9, you don’t get the drop on them but they don’t get the drop on you, either, right? So… soft move, but probably putting them in a spot. “You didn’t notice anything as you and the others entered the ravine, but as you reach the end (and the others are about halfway through), you turn back and see a number of shapes moving up on the ridge tops, silhouetted in the setting sun. Looks like they’re moving into position to ambush your friends, what do you do?” You’ve boxed them into a situation, they’ve got to react, and they might need choose to Discern Realities just to get some useful tactical info.

    By contrast, with a less stealthy group of opponents, on a 6- to scout, my GM move would have been softer (probably), just putting them in a spot but giving them some useful info. Like “Oh crap, you’re surrounded by like 12 bandits, they look like deserters, what do you do?” Discerning Realities isn’t necessary anymore, right? Maybe they do anyway to figure out an angle, but they’re not desperately trying to figure out what the hell is happening. And on a 10+, the PC catches them in the open, without being spotted himself, and Discerning Realities is an option but not really a requirement to get useful info.

    Again, my point is: the “difficulty” of an opponent or situation is more about how you frame the situation and the constraints that imposes on the PCs, and less about numbers.

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