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I have both played and GMed FATE 2.0 a lot but, while deciding the target number for rolls as a GM has somehow always been easy, knowing what difficulties to expect as a player for a long time was hard. I eventually came to realize that, when I GMed, my baseline difficulty for a generic, 'average' action varied a lot between even games with the same points for character creation and the same was true for the people who Gmed for me. We started listing an 'average success' threshold along with the other information we gave out to players as they built their characters.

Here's the situation:

All three of the primary GMs (of which I am one) almost always run 5-aspects 4-skill points each or 4-aspects 5-skill points each games (both of which total 20 skill points, just enough for a level 4 skill at the start of the game with no points in intrinsics or equipment), and answers to this question should assume that players have between 4 and 5 aspects and exactly 20 skillpoints (though an answer that deals with arbitrary values for each would be awesome)

One of the DMs believes that the average success for such a game should be a 1, and runs his games accordingly. This leads to him assigning massive negative penalties (typically -2 but it's -3 or higher for specialized skills) to anyone trying to do anything they don't have points in , which I want to avoid doing except for skills where an untrained penalty actually makes sense (e.g. brain surgery, ice magic, ks: Inuit History).

The other DM usually sets her average success at three and as a result the PCs are generally weaker than random NPC 'extras', let alone NPCs of any real talent.

I put mine at two, because it's in the middle, but am unsure about this and don't really have any real reasons for it. Because my average average success was the result of observation, I don't really know how to expand it to non-average situations. What's a good difficulty for a difficult action in a 5-aspect 20 skillpoint game if I want an average trained individual to fail the task about half the time? Is two a good number for an average success? How do I tell?

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The basic math is this: A difficulty of [the rating of the skill being rolled] will succeed almost 40% of the time (and succeed or tie about 60% of the time). Increasing the difficulty rapidly increases the chances of failure: a difficulty 2 higher than the skill being rolled means the chances of tie-or-better is less than 20%, forcing the player to spend at least one Fate point or similar resource.

And that last bit, about spending resources, is important: Fate doesn't want us to think about failure and success. Instead, we can think of setting target numbers as a way of expressing how many resources the player likely needs to spend in order to succeed. In that context, a target difficulty is a rating of how bad you have to want a thing (how much you're willing to lose) in order to get it.

There's several good rules of thumb for figuring this out, depending on your playstyle and the immediate context of the action. The first strategy I list below is probably the closest to what you're imagining as an answer, but it's most divorced from Fate's "narrative translates into mechanics, mechanics are never applied outside of their narrative context" ethos. So I'm mentioning two other guidelines as well which use narrative context to determine target numbers.

Rating-derived target numbers

If it's average difficulty, set the target number at the character's skill rating. If it's easy, drop the target by 2. If it's hard, increase the target by 2.

This is a quick and dirty meta-level conceit: you decide how draining (in terms of Fate points, free invokes, and limited-use stunts) the action should be, and set the difficulty accordingly. Increase the difficulty by 2 for each resource unit (Fate point or equivalent) you think a success should be likely to drain.

This is probably the technique I use most often. It's fast and effective, but it sometimes yields weird results that aren't in line with the narrative. When that happens, I should move to another strategy.

Aspect-derived target numbers

Start at Average (+1). For every aspect in play which makes the action easier or harder, adjust the target number down or up by 1 accordingly. (For particularly nasty aspects, increase by 2.)

This often comes out very close to the previous effect, but with a more narrative bent. If you've got aspects working well in your game, they'll tell you what the difficulty should be according to the context of the story. It's just a matter of listening to 'em.

I use something like this as the GM in too, combined with the strategy below and--since there aren't any aspects in RFS--purely on a narrative basis.

Invite the players to contribute.

Ask the players to rate the awesomeness of the action's success on the adjective ladder. Take the majority or the average result: that's your target number for the roll.

You've gotta trust your players for this approach to work, but I've had great success with it! They know you're asking them to set the difficulty, but framing it as "how awesome would it be to succeed" helps get them invested in the story of the thing and suppresses any residual temptations to "cheat" by saying what they're trying to do isn't as cool as it actually is. Fate's about meeting hard challenges, after all.

For any of these strategies, feel free to bump up difficulties by +2 or so when the context is exceptionally tense, dramatic, or otherwise significant.

Note: Because we're talking about dice, there will always be outliers. I once saw an immortal ninja fail so utterly at kicking down a flimsy (target +0) motel door that his player felt it was a waste to spend resources to succeed. But over time it evens out to predictable resource expenditure rates.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yah, I guess our Fate games just aren't as narrative-based as they're supposed to be. I usually try to base DCs off of the campaign world's self relation (if that makes sense) once the game starts but obviously I can't do that before the campaign world exists. As a result basing DCs off the characters' skill ranks rubs me the wrong way, but I didn't mention that in the question and it's even one of the suggested methods in the book so I'll accept the answer anyways. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Nov 4 '14 at 11:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ While we're talking about the narrative bent of Fate - If I were your GM, I probably wouldn't have had your ninja roll to kick down that door. Was it meant to be an obstacle to the ninja? Was there an interesting consequence to his failure? What was the purpose of rolling and why would a badass ninja have a chance of failing to kick down a stationary, defenseless door? \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Nov 4 '14 at 11:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gomad I was the GM, and it was a misjudgement on my part: I wanted the ninja to have a moment of awesome kicking in the door to the wizard's motel room before the wizard's wards kicked back (I thought I was handing him a free invoke for a success with style). I'd be happy to talk more about it in the Role-playing Games Chat. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Nov 4 '14 at 11:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Heh. Yeah, I understand that! You think you've created an opportunity for awesome and it backfires. No, nothing like that has ever happened to me, why do you ask? :) \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Nov 4 '14 at 11:52

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