I understand that to a lot of the blognards any sense of 'scaling' the world to fit the characters (rather than having them learn when to cut-and-run through bitter experience) is anathema. I'd like to be that hardcore myself, but - if truth be told - I still feel a certain worry that I might accidentally stack the odds against the PCs just too much. Sure, intentionally throwing "beyond your meagre abilities" things into the dungeon has its place; but doing so accidentally can leave you as a DM with egg on your face and a bunch of cheesed off players reaching for character sheets.
This is my personal at-a-glance guide to assigning DCs during play:
|Descriptor||Difficulty Class||Mental Shorthand|
|Easy||lvl+5||Fail on a 1|
|Routine||lvl+10||"Odds are in your favour"|
|Demanding||lvl+25||Succeed on a 20|
|Nigh impossible||lvl+30 (or more)||"In your dreams"|
Given the proliferation of bonus types in the higher levels of 3E I also modify the DCs of skill checks to take into account skill boosting items, feats and suchlike:
Challenging is intended as the benchmark of 50/50 success or failure for level appropriate, class-specific things. So a first level character can usually expect about a 50/50 change of success at DC16 if the test is of something the character is expected to be good at (beating AC for fighter types, making will saves for casters, achieving skill DCs for skillmonkeys, etc.). By comparison a 20th level character could expect to consider a DC 55 (lvl+15+20) skill check or a DC 35 save (lvl+15) a 50/50 thing within his field of expertise.
Readers still awake at this point will notice that, yes, the suggested DCs for skill checks given above do contradict the upper ranges of the table of suggested DCs found in the holy writ that is the DMG. But then, when was the last time you played a high-level character who found the suggested "Nigh Impossible" DC 40 a real stretch?
edit: I know, I know. Blogger hates, and fails to understand, tables. I'm working on it.