Thinking about TOR - Moderate Difficulty (TN 14)
One of the things that strikes me as most odd when I see someone play The One Ring as the Loremaster (the GM), is how frequently the recommendations I put in the rulebook about not changing the difficulty level (Target Number) of an action are ignored. It seems coded into the procedures of many gamemasters to consider closely every occurrence requiring a die roll, to evaluate it in terms of how ‘objectively’ difficult a task should be (“this wall is very high”, “this door is very sturdy”, etc.)
Now, I understand perfectly where this line of ‘simulative’ reasoning comes from, and I am not really interested in debating the amount of power this way of playing gives to the Loremaster, as many people went that way before. What I am interested about is to weigh the pros and cons of such behaviour in terms of practical play, as it is part of the everyday business of playing The One Ring. Of course, my aim is to demonstrate that you should really just stick to TN 14 for the vast majority of times! But you are free to try and prove me wrong. ;)
To change or not to change the TN - that is the question
Greg Stolze’s ‘How to Run Roleplaying Games’ (found here) highlights some of the factors GM’s consider when deciding how challenging a task should be. The reason I find to be the less interesting is: How difficult is a task within the game setting? Unfortunately, in my experience it is also the most popular one.
Now, is it really important to consider how something is ‘difficult according to the logic of the setting’? And especially, is it so important that you feel like considering it every time someone picks up the dice? Should you really care about how ‘objectively’ difficult it must be to move that pile of rocks blocking the entrance of the cave? Maybe this might be interesting if the heroes are hard pressed by pursuers, but under less dramatic circumstances it is hardly so. So, why not go for a simple TN 14 roll?
You might ask why roll at all in those cases. Of course you have a point, but there’s a reason to, the main reason why you roll dice in the first place if you ask me - and that is to highlight the differences in competence between player-characters. If there’s heavy lifting involved, let the big guy do it; if what you need is persuasion, let the silver-tongued guy handle it. Etcetera etcetera.
But to achieve all the above it is not necessary to change the difficulty of an action - more proficient heroes will have better chances to succeed than less proficient ones anyway, and they will be easily getting higher levels of success. Defaulting most rolls to TN 14 doesn’t mean you are making it too easy for your players. TN 14 is a ‘moderate’ challenge, meaning that you have 3 chances out of 10 to fail even rolling 3 Success dice.
And what do you get in return for not minding about how ‘objectively difficult’ is a task? Faster gameplay. If 90% of the times a roll will be vs TN 14, everyone at the table will quickly develop the ability to ‘eyeball’ a die roll, and rapidly assess if they made it or not. Change the TN often, and you’ll hear the same question over and over again: “How difficult is the roll?” Small ‘speedbumps’ placed along the course of play, but ‘speedbumbs’ nonetheless.
Next time: if you really want to change the TN of an action, at least give something in return (or, tweaking how you gain Advancement points).