Recently in my travels online I stumbled on a discussion that made me want to pull my hair out. It went something like this.
My players are too good they always are able succeed in their DC checks because “X,Y,Z” reason what should I do ?
As I began to scroll through the advice and replies to this comment, time and time again I saw the response to this question runs along the lines of…
Up the DC’s so it is harder for the player to succeed. Or make one or two of the monsters have a higher perception score.
Now, this, not the first time that I have seen this question and these type of replies come up in conversation. Every time encounter it infuriates me to no end both as a player and a game master.
When a GM makes the conscious choice to “Slide” the difficulty bar up for some or all of the players at the table under the banner of “Game Balance” is unfair to the players and let me say just plain crap. It’s not fair in the sense that just because one or more of your players are “GOOD” at something. That because of this said thing should then become harder for them to do.
This by its very nature is not just punishing your player once, but session after session for the entirety of your campaign. For nothing more than being good at something! What sense does it make that just because one of your players at the table has a +10 to a skill? They have devoted experience and skill slots into to be amazing at a thing. Yet, suddenly every rock wall in the world overnight has become 5 DC harder to climb? That sounds crazy when you word it that way. Yet often no one seems to argue when you suggest essentially doing the exact same thing to deal with high stealth or perception skills at the table.
So what are some ways to deal with situations that arise when one or more of your players are exceptionally good at something in the game? Here are a few ideas that are much better than upping the DC on your players.
Handwave or Yes And…
When players have reached a level in a skill that leaves you asking yourself as a DM
“Why do I even bother asking you to roll?” DONT ASK THEM TO ROLL!!
Thus speeding your game up and allowing your player to feel that the skill points they have invested have been well spent. Personally, I also think this is the reason why 5E creatures have passive perceptions as well to speed up this portion of gameplay.
This would be pulling from the Cypher System for inspiration on another way to handle this situation. Again I would no make a player roll arbitrarily to see if they fail. Instead, If I felt the situation story might benefit some added tension from a roll I would use a “GM intrusion” or call for a “Hazard Roll” as an example
Amber’s Monk wants to scale the towers wall to slip into the wizards lab. Her monk has a +10 to climb and the tower has plenty of handholds vines. The climb should be an easy one with a DC of 5 or 10 at most.
You could declare the climb is easy enough but halfway up the encounter lose bricks and mortar. Necessitating the need for a roll at a slightly higher skill check than a standard climb DC.
Incorporate other skills (Skill Challenge)
This is my personal favorite method to handle a situation like the one above. Simply inform the player that the climb is easy enough but every 15 feet of the climb she needs to make a Hide check as the patrolling watchmen pass by. Additionally before Amber begins her climb she could roll a Climb and Perception check to asses the difficulty of the climb. Allowing her the opportunity to spot the Hazard much like locating a trap. A successful roll would allow Amber to locate the best path to make her accent to the top of the tower and avoid all the hazards.
This turns the whole event into something reminiscent to the 4E skill challenge that I personally was a huge fan and also feels more real. In all of the examples here the fact that Ambers monk is going to climb the tower is handwaved. It is already understood that her monk is more than skilled enough to make the climb.