False Accuracy in Roleplaying Games
For some GMs, creating NPCs is a pleasure. For others, including myself, it is a chore. Trying it create an NPC on the fly is one of my greatest fears and when I need to figure out the stat of an NPC that I never expected to need it can grind the game to a halt. Most RPGs use a combination of stats to determine a characters skill. Should the shopkeeper’s haggling skill be a +6 or a +5? Now the PCs want to try to shoplift something, what’s his perception? Never mind, the bard is going to charm him, better figure out his mental defense.
One of my favorite things about Monte Cook’s Cypher System is the ease of creating NPCs and monsters. Everything the players roll against is assigned a level which is multiplied by three to obtain a difficulty for the player’s roll. This is great if I’m playing Numenera but what about the game I’m planning to play next, 13th Age? Actually, 13th Age uses a similar system of classifying areas into one of three tiers and basing all difficulty checks on that tier. For example, in a dungeon designated as “Adventurer Tier” all normal tasks are DC15, hard tasks DC20 and extremely hard DC25. This also applies to any required stat for an NPC. What’s the difficulty to haggle with an average denizen of an adventure tier environment? DC15 of course. How about the Mental Defense for the charm spell? 15.
At first this rule can appear to make the game bland and uninteresting. Everyone the characters meet in an environment is exactly the same, what’s to differentiate one NPC or challenge from another? The reality is that when making a single roll against an NPC, or to disarm a trap, there is not much difference between a 15 and a 16. The player will roll and they will fail or succeed without any real understanding of whether the chance of success of the check was 75% or 80%. This makes determining whether a DC is 15 or 16 a false accuracy.
In order to add some interest and keep the players guessing throw in the occasional difficult check. Perhaps that NPC is really good at haggling or the trap in the dungeon is particularily well-constructed. This is enough of a difference to make the world seem real.