Looking again at difficulty factors

I have been thinking about difficulty factors this week. My default position is that I am a huge fan of using difficulty factors on skills.

I normally start with a defined difficulty factor so I know a cliff edge is Sheer Folly at the top and in the middle section it is Absurd and finally Very Hard as it levels off slightly.

With a base level in mind I tend to bump the level up or down a level for each complicating or mitigating factor. So the same climb at night goes from Sheer Folly to Impossible.

When there were multiple complicating factors I bump the level up additional steps. So We have our mountain and it is night and it starts to rain and then the wind gets up as well. This climb is now two steps beyond Impossible.

I handle good things in the same way. So the characters pull out ropes, pitons and hammers. I reduce the difficulty one step for this.

And there lies the dilemma. If they were two steps beyond Impossible (-100) anyway and then they use all this extra gear and it remains Impossible (-100) why bother? Ironically the extra gear would actually make a difference at the bottom of the slope where the added complications do not overtop the difficulty scale.

If you look at this from climbing up from the bottom it makes perfect sense, and you can almost hear the characters looking up and scratching their chins and saying “Aye, without the ropes and gear that climb in nigh on impossible in this weather.” It is only when they are a third of the way up that the climb gets even more difficult.

So far that is how I have always done it. Part of the logic has been laziness. Rather than having to look up or memorise a shed load of possible bonuses and penalties I can just walk up and down a difficulty ladder. The actual ‘rules’ that I am copying are well tested and established as this is how FUDGE deals with things, you just sum all the factors and shift the difficulty according to the final result.

All well and good until horses get involved.

If you horse has a MM penalty of -50, you as the rider only get a -25. The mounts penalty is halved and applied to the riding roll. This is an RMu rule. This leaves me with a bad feeling.

Imagine a short mounted combat that turns into a flight/pursuit.

  • Do I, as GM, roll the MM for the horse each round?
  • Does the Player roll twice, once for their mount and once for their character?
  • Characters starting at 3rd or 4th level can easily have a riding skill in the high 70s or more. Riding ‘impossible terrain or obstacles, for them, is on average a partial success.

If two rolls are required every round, one for the horse and then one for the rider, we need a double success. The first has a much bigger penalty but is a percentage action as a MM. The second roll has a small penalty but would be an all or nothing test. Failure meaning the character hits the deck at worst or cannot fight back at best.

I would frequently bunch rolls together, not rolling for every NPC but one indicative roll just to keep the action moving. If the PC is intentionally leading the party and their pursuers over hedges, along ridges and the like with the intention of dislodging the riders or injuring their mounts then you cannot aggregate these rolls. That would negate the player’s agency. So we are down to 20+ rolls per round just for the riding in a 5 v 5 pursuit, without any actual combat.

I don’t like the idea of the player rolling the horses MM. Eventually you will get a player who will argue that a two foot wall is not medium difficulty or when two walls come up in the same round as they are only 20′ apart then complaints about whether one jump is actually harder than two. (It is as the horse has to rebalance on landing and has fewer strides to adjust its pace and take off position.)

The last concern is that the riding skill penalties being halved mean that a +50 skill wipes out a -100 Impossible penalty. Players who want to play horse focused characters can easily start with more than that if you are starting at 3rd level. 6 Ranks bought, plus culture, plus knack, plus stat, plus professional bonus. Most situations will NOT be impossible, at least a partial success is more likely than not. There is little motivation for a horse loving character to spare the horses if he or she knows they can ride it out.

I suspect that what is irking me is that they have halved the difficulty factor. In effect they have created an entirely new scale. I don’t know if this is the only instance where that is used. It is the only one that I have come across so far.

Noone in any of my games has had a mounted combat yet but if I struggle with these rolls/rules I think I may need look at them again.

4 Replies to “Looking again at difficulty factors”

  1. This doesn’t sort out the double roll problem per se but I think it might give us a workaround. What if we say the horse MM is indicative of its capability (a -10MM carthorse is neither going to perform as well as a showjumper with +20MM). However, we know horses are fickle and will, unless pressed, make for the easiest route even if that is going to lead to running around a field.
    So the riding MM is actually more akin to a Static Manoeuvre. Can the rider convince the horse to go that away and stay seated (hence its still an MM)? Which is basically how I’ve handled the occasional mounted combat in games and most recently in Conspiracy in the Mist where the party were fleeing Wargs to the safety of Amon Sul. Here we used Ride MM to control mounts and as an indication of ‘seatedness’. Then yes we did roll for the horse MM, but that could be covered with a group roll or standard movement. What it did do, was help the players understand poor horse control slows down the mount and created a great sense of atmosphere as the dwarf on a pony and with no horsemanship dropped further and further back. GULP…..

    1. I like the RMu MM percentage action table and I particularly like the criticals for rolls under -20. If you push your horse over a hedge and then down a ditch then over a wall then there is a fair chance that you horse is going to hurt itself.
      I do fear that I am going to have to know the running or footwork skill for each horse to counter the penalties and make some of these maneuvers survivable. It could be that anything hard enough to challenge a players riding skill will kill a horse in a couple of rounds.

      1. I need to see if I can find my old copies of FGU’s Wild West and Boot Hill 3rd edition. Both used a variation of the training level of a horse to augment or offset a player’s riding skill if I remember correctly.

        1. I’ve been rolling that into the MM of the horse but then not putting the distance per round up, otherwise, a well-trained horse becomes a flying rainbow unicorn. However, a mechanic for trained warhorses and Rohirrim horse would be a nice tweak.

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