Checks & Difficulty Targets

As the Episode progresses, you will inevitably need to call for, and handle, checks. These are the backbone of S4E, and knowing how to handle checks effectively can be the difference between being a good GM and a great GM. This section will discuss some of the principles of checks in S4E, and give some insight into how to handle them effectively.

Essentially, there are two schools of thought when it comes to checks. The first is the ‘technical’ method, and the second is the ‘dramatic’ method. Either one is valid (though S4E was designed based on the ‘dramatic’ method), and both have their advantages and disadvantages; more often than not, GMs end up using a combination of the two.

The ‘technical’ method is based on context and technical detail; if building a barn is X difficulty, it should always be X difficulty, unless technical factors, which should modify the X difficulty by Y amount, come into play. This method is usually math-intensive and can break the immersion many roleplayers seek to preserve, but it is also consistent, which many players highly value because it gives them a firm understanding of their character’s capabilities in any given situation.

The ‘dramatic’ method is based on narrative impact and action significance; if it is very important that a character fly fast enough to escape a collapsing cave, the GM may make that task less difficult (or make the check itself an automatic success despite its actual result). This method requires implicit trust on the part of the players in the GM’s fairness (not to mention some bluffing on the part of the GM), but it also has the possibility to create a more dynamic story in the long run.

Most GMs use both methods in combination, but tend to lean more toward one or the other. Whichever method you favor, S4E can accommodate. When a character attempts a task which has enough narrative significance for you to call for a check, that check will be based on a Difficulty Target number. Players are not required to know the Difficulty Target; only the GM is required to know it so as to relate the success or failure of the attempted task (based on the check result as compared to the Difficulty Target).

This can allow for considerable ‘wiggle room’ at any time; if the story needs a check to succeed, you can use the check result as it would translate to a Difficulty Target to determine the degree of success. For example, if a character needs to escape a collapsing cave, you may determine that the check will succeed no matter what its result is. If its result is high, you might relate that the character escaped with time to spare; if the result is low, you might relate instead that they just barely made it out (and maybe only then due to a lucky break or after taking some minor damage). The player never needs to know (and shouldn’t be told!) that they couldn’t have failed the check in the first place.

Difficulty Targets are partially static, and partially dynamic, in S4E; the normal Difficulty Target is a set number, but the GM may also choose to include the option for 'Partial Success' and / or 'Dramatic Success' Difficulty Targets as well as the normal Difficulty Target. Normal Difficulty Targets are separated into four tiers:

"Simple" Difficulty Target: 5
"Average" Difficulty Target: 10
"Difficult" Difficulty Target: 15
"Daunting" Difficulty Target: 20

If the GM chooses to include the option for 'Partial Success' and / or 'Dramatic Success' Difficulty Targets as well as the normal Difficulty Target, doing so concerns adding or subtracting a d6 result from the normal Difficulty Target, as follows:

The Partial Success Difficulty Target is determined by subtracting 1d6 from the normal Difficulty Target. If a character meets or exceeds this number but falls short of the normal Difficulty Target, they may succeed--but at a cost or penalty the GM is free to invent on the spot. For example, on an "Average" Difficulty Target (10), subtract 1d6 to get a Partial Success Difficulty Target somewhere between 4 and 9.

The Dramatic Success Difficulty Target is determined by adding 1d6 to the normal Difficulty Target. If a character meets or exceeds this number, they succeed at the check above and beyond normal, and the GM is free to invent a bonus or reward on the spot for doing so. For example, on an "Average" Difficulty Target (10), add 1d6 to get a Dramatic Success Difficulty Target somewhere between 11 and 16.

Any result below the Partial Success Difficulty Target (or the normal Difficulty Target if Partial Success isn't allowed) means that the character has failed the check, and thus, the task they were attempting to perform. It is possible for a "Simple" Difficulty Target to have a Partial Success Difficulty Target which cannot be failed.

A Practical Example
The GM decides that a particular check being attempted is a Difficult check, and sets the normal Difficulty Target at 15. The Partial Success Difficulty Target subtracts 1d6 from the base number (in this example, the GM rolls a 4), and is thus 11. The Dramatic Success Difficulty Target adds 1d6 to the base number (in this example, the GM rolls a 3), and is thus 18. The Difficulty Target range for this example check could thus be thought of as "11 / 15 / 18."