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Tabulazero

Setback / Difficulty / Challenge

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I assume the Genesys system will closely ressemble the Edge of the Empire.

There is one thing I find hard to grasp: what is exactly the difference between a setback, a difficulty and a challenge ? When does one become the other ?

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Setbacks come from environmental factors and other externalities which make things more difficult. Bad weather, darkness, time constraints, bad footing, etc. That's easy enough.

The line between difficulty and challenge dice is much more blurred though. Challenge dice only really come up in very specific rules scenarios, or when the GM chooses to make a test more difficult by throwing a Destiny Point at it. Kind of hope one thing FFG do with Genesys is more clearly outline when a GM should choose to upgrade a check rather than increase the amount of dice.

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Setback don't ever become difficulty. Setback dice are, as mentioned, extenuating factors that can interfere with a task, and can come in various forms. At least in the Star Wars games, there are many different abilities that focus on removing setback dice.

Difficulty dice are equivalent to difficulty numbers in other games. They are the base difficulty of a task. Generally, this ranges from 0 to 5, representing the number of difficulty dice in a dice pool. If the difficulty is 2, and something causes the difficulty to be increased by 1, then you roll 3 difficulty dice.

Challenge dice are the result of upgrading the difficulty. If the difficulty is 2 and is then upgraded once, then you roll 1 difficulty die and 1 challenge die. Challenge dice represents more complex variables, represented by introducing the Despair result to the pool. It's relatively common to see upgraded difficulty in combat as a byproduct of abilities, and despair can cause such things as dropping a weapon, running of of ammo, or damaging something. Outside of combat, upgrades are more of a case by case thing. For example, whenever toxic chemicals or poisons come into play, the GM may upgrade the difficulty to represent the inherent risks of handling such compounds, even if doing so is nor particularly hard.

So, a full example could be a character attempting to move a container of toxic materials. The actual task is average, or 2, as it's not that hard to perform in and of itself. But the chance of exposure or spillage upgrades the difficulty once. If the power goes out and plunges the room into darkness, that would add multiple setback dice to the pool.

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Walking over a 10cm wide bar for 3 metres seems to be like a average task (some may say easy but if you arent coordinated you would fail this more often than not , so average). If you try doing this in a light breeze you have a higher chance of falling off, so add a setback, doing so in a hurricane would probably add 3 setback. It is still an average task.

Now doing the same task across a chasm 200 m off the ground, you have made the task much more challenging, whether or not their is wind,  the risk is greater so changing a difficulty die to a challenge die is appropriate, it has a higher chance of additonal results including despair , which is the equivalent of the fumble roll in other games (only you may have actually succeeded the roll) the more difficulty dice that are upgraded to challenge then the higher chance of getting more threat and /or a despair.

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It can seem a bit confusing at first, but after 3 years of play it's all become relatively second nature.  I usually upgrade a difficulty (thus adding challenge dice) when there is a chance failure could result in real disaster, like the above mentioned toxic example.  The GM can also use destiny points to upgrade the difficulty just because they feel like it.  I tend to use destiny points to upgrade difficulty when I think there's a chance for fun or comedy if a despair or excess threat comes up. 

Sometimes I do upgrade instead of just raise difficulty for reasons even I can't put my finger on.  It just seems dramatically appropriate for the moment.  Luckily our group has a pretty good working relationship so we have no problem chatting about what we think is appropriate or politely questioning if they think something is wrong. 

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1 hour ago, Tabulazero said:

I assume the Genesys system will closely ressemble the Edge of the Empire.

There is one thing I find hard to grasp: what is exactly the difference between a setback, a difficulty and a challenge ? When does one become the other ?

One is black, one is purple, and one is red.....

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2 hours ago, Blackbird888 said:

Setback don't ever become difficulty. Setback dice are, as mentioned, extenuating factors that can interfere with a task, and can come in various forms. At least in the Star Wars games, there are many different abilities that focus on removing setback dice.

I dont know where it was that someone did the math, but I remember reading that two Setback dice = one purple. Not that you turn the black dice into purples or anything, but that if you have a task that's a one difficulty with four setback dice, it's the equivalent of having three purple dice, as far as hardness-of-task goes. 

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3 hours ago, Split Light said:

I usually upgrade a difficulty (thus adding challenge dice) when there is a chance failure could result in real disaster, like the above mentioned toxic example.  The GM can also use destiny points to upgrade the difficulty just because they feel like it.  I tend to use destiny points to upgrade difficulty when I think there's a chance for fun or comedy if a despair or excess threat comes up. 

This here really sums up the Difficulty-Challenge dice relationship very well. There are game mechanic reasons that a dice pool will be "upgraded" but the GM is free to do it whenever they feel it's appropriate. High risk situations are always worthy of upgrades.

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I look at the Setback dice as a product of circumstance.  The environmental examples show that.  They are also systematic in that they can come from the opposition.  A common expenditure of Advantage results is to give Setback dice to the opposition.  Plus in the Star Wars games, there are plenty of Talents that will throw on the Setbacks for specific rolls.

 

I've also made it that they are external difficulties.  An extremely difficult lock might have a high Difficulty (in purple dice), but if they are using substandard tools, or are in the dark, or high stress (time limit) that would add Setbacks.  But they could be there by design too.  If the only access panel required you to unlock it while suspended upside down, that would be an intentional method to add Setback dice, but the lock itself is not more difficult.

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The main reason to upgrade instead of setback, is if there is a higher chance of something bad happening in the attempt. Example which is given in the SWRPG is shooting into a melee where you have friends involved , the despair results in you hitting your friends.

In the example I gave walking the beam one meter off the ground even in trying circumstances will likely not result in major problems. Falling from 200m does hence the introduction of a difficulty dice. You try and talk your way out of getting arrested when speaking with someone who speaks your native language and it might be a hard (3 purple check) , try it when there is a language barrier and all of a sudden the person arresting you gets angry because instead of saying you think his dress sense is immaculate and that for a few credits he should let you off with a warning, instead what you said (on a despair) is that you would like him to wear a dress and that you will pay him a few credits to have some fun.

Edited by syrath

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You also upgrade difficulty when doing opposed rolls, so challenge dice can come up quite often in social interactions, when players use their skills in such encounters.

Each social skill is "resisted" by a another specific skill. So if a character is trying to use his Charm skill to get into the VIP area of the nightclub, the bouncer would resist that attempt with his own Cool skill. So the GM, instead of setting an arbritary difficulty, looks what the bouncer has in his Presence attribute, bouncing is not only about being big and strong but also about looking intimidating and being able to handle drunks, so lets give him 3. That means the basic difficulty for the characters Charm roll would be 3 difficulty dice. But the bouncer has also recieved some training in being aware of any disturbence in the room and "keeping a cool head", so he has 2 in his Cool skill. That would mean 2 of the 3 difficulty dice in the Charm roll would be upgraded to challenge dice. As a GM I would also add a number of boost and/or setback dice depending on what the player of the character actually says when we roleplay the encounter out.

I really like this system because it makes any social interaction tense since there is a risk of a Despair being rolled pretty much all the time. I have had simple haggling with a merchant turn into entire side-adventures, I would have never come up with if it weren't for the narrative dice. But I can also see why some may dislike it, if they prefer to keep dice-rolling to a minimum doing social encounters.

Edited by Barl

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My basic rule of thumb is this:

  • Difficulty: "How hard is it normally?"
  • Setback: "Is failure more likely than normal?"
  • Challenge: "Does failure have worse consequences than normal?"

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