Are easy skill tests surprisingly hard?

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DavidJohnBaker DavidJohnBaker's picture
Are easy skill tests surprisingly hard?

Just getting acquainted with this system (which I love so far). One thing about skills and difficulty levels has me a bit perplexed, though. It seems like the easiest possible skill tests can be failed by very able characters a surprisingly high fraction of the time.

Looking at the sample characters, a 60 is about as high as their skills get in most cases. This fits with the skill ranges table on p. 174, which says that a 60 is equivalent to PhD-level expertise. A 50 is supposed to be a pretty high level of expertise.

But then the highest difficulty bonus you can get is +30 for an "effortless" task. Combine these two, and the rules are saying that someone with a PhD in mathematics will fail at an effortless math problem 9 percent of the time, and someone with "some advanced training" will fail 19 percent of the time.

That seems like a pretty high failure rate at the easiest possible tasks for highly qualified characters. Do people tend to play this way in practice?

SquireNed SquireNed's picture
DavidJohnBaker wrote:That

DavidJohnBaker wrote:
That seems like a pretty high failure rate at the easiest possible tasks for highly qualified characters. Do people tend to play this way in practice?

Not really, speaking from experience. One of the things I like to use as a baseline metric is that nothing is easier than something that most people will succeed at most of the time.

As a GM and a designer, when I consider a task that is "easy", it's not something like driving down the freeway. It's something like driving down the freeway in adverse weather conditions and heavy traffic but full speed. This is the sort of thing that people do on a daily basis, but it's not necessarily a good idea and you can get messed up for doing it.

I also consider two things: first, is there an opportunity for error correction? In the d20 system, they have a system where you simply "take 10" on things where there's no pressure and no reason why you couldn't make multiple attempts: a mathematician working on a problem that they know has even a chance of failure will check twice, and they probably have an idea of what the right answer will look like, so I wouldn't make it a single roll in Eclipse Phase any more than I'd make it subject to rolling a 1 in a d20 game. Second, is this something that even matters in the vast scheme of things? If the math is to do something routine or story critical (but not one of the conflict sources), I might simply ignore the rolling: much like how I don't make players roll social skills to interact with their contacts during the briefing. Some of this has to be somewhat restrained: ignoring too many rolls means that you're getting away from mechanics and you're also making character development feel less "useful", but there are ways to be sure to give bonuses.

You can also use Moxie to correct failures; this still leaves a certain chance of failure, and it is a limited resource, but it ensures that things keep going on path.

Finally, keep in mind that some of these things have further augmentations, psi sleights, or other bonuses that can be acquired during play; with the right morph or ego, you can see pretty significant stacking bonuses, and easy tasks would fail practically never (I have a rule that I simply skip rolls that would need to roll under 110 or higher unless we're just checking for a margin of success; the 2% mandatory chance of failure just seems rude then).

There are also a variety of other hidden benefits (like Muse-based benefits) that also make some of these skill tests easier, but they make the game more complex, rather than simpler and don't really contribute to individual character development, so I shy away from them.

DivineWrath DivineWrath's picture
First, if there is no doubt

First, if there is no doubt that a character can do the task without failure, then why are you rolling dice? Dice is for when you want some random chance of failure. Don't roll dice if failure shouldn't be possible.

Second, there is simple success tests. These tests are for when success will happen, but it is used to determine how well you will succeed. Making an order for a nanofab to make something is a programing simple success test. If you ask for a gun, you will get a functional gun. Failing the test would mean that some flaw is introduced or maybe it took longer to make. If there were complications that put success into doubt, then it would no longer be a simple success test.

MAD Crab MAD Crab's picture
And lastly, success tests are

And lastly, success tests are for when you've got time pressure on you. For combat rounds that's about three seconds, though some tests take longer. Sure, an expert will succeed eventually, but even a genius will have trouble if there's no time to do research or plan things out.

MrWigggles MrWigggles's picture
Yea. Mechanically, if you can

Yea. Mechanically, if you can take your time, players can get up to +60. The amount of time required to gain that, can be pretty long, and if its an easy take at +30, then not sure why you're rolling the dice.

If a character is rolling the dice, then they dont have the time to carefully work on the problem. They're either under threat, or doing something time sensitive or failure is meaningful. If the PhD in math is rolling to do some mathing, then they doing fourie transformation inside their head, and they cant get a doctoral canidate to check their math.

DavidJohnBaker DavidJohnBaker's picture
Thanks, great comments.

Thanks, great comments.

I think one thing I was also overlooking was the rule for repeated tries (this gets to the issue of time pressure). If you have a 90% chance of success the first time you try something, an 80% chance on a second try, etc, then your odds of failing after multiple tries are very low. Seems like this option would be available in most applications of Academics skills, for example.

Trappedinwikipedia Trappedinwikipedia's picture
Taking extra time is the big

Taking extra time is the big one. Without time pressure the +60 is pretty easy to use.

jackgraham jackgraham's picture
What's said above is true.

What's said above is true. Also, the PCs in core aren't hella min-maxed, but you can easily build starting PCs with skills higher than 60 in key skills. (The sample PCs in Transhuman, for example, are much more min/maxed). Finally, there are a ton of bonuses that combat-oriented characters can pile on to their weapon skills using things like quick action to aim, various smart links & smart ammo, etc. A character with only a 60 in Kinetic Weapons can be a murder machine with the right gear & augs.

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MrWigggles MrWigggles's picture
So, for me, I almost never

So, for me, I almost never allow research to gain the +60 bonus. The research skill, is this combination of googling, and also asking questions. A failure here, especially a crit failure, can mean alerting the opposing parties that someone is interested in them. With that in mind, never prevent the PCs from learning important information.

Wyvernjack Wyvernjack's picture
Somewhat new to the setting

Somewhat new to the setting and rules, but I recall that things like these can be rolled as a Simple Success Test, which basically means you can't fail it, but if you roll bad it might take longer than it would normally. Page 118. Could be I misunderstood it?

ShadowDragon8685 ShadowDragon8685's picture
Nope, that's pretty much

Nope, that's pretty much exactly what a Simple Success Test is.

And yeah, to beat a dead horse:

If you're rolling, that's because there's the chance that Something Big will Go Way Wrong. Like, if you're shooting a gun, "going wrong" means you miss. If you're mathing, then "going wrong" means you've screwed up in a manner which will not be immediately obvious (perhaps you put in the wrong inputs, and thus got garbage outputs that pass basic sanity-checking,) but will have disastrous consequences.

A PhD mathematician does not need to roll to math a math class they're teaching, or to make exact change in a credit-based system which is using fractional credits. (Buy GaloYum!-brand Turkey* Jerky! Only 5.989 credits; 5.95 on all future purchases from authorized GaloYum! retailers if you ping GaloYum! within thirty minutes of purchase!
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If a PhD mathematician is rolling to math an easy mathematics problem, then they're doing a low-risk, high-stakes maths problem: for example, calculating the burn they need to make with an improvised solid rocket booster to send their stricken vessel, which is not perfectly balanced center of mass to center of thrust, where it needs to go. Easy for a PhD mathematician to do, especially with all the computerized aids at his disposal (and that's before counting in muses, expert systems, other mathematicians, complementary skills, etc,) but if you get it wrong, you're not going to space today. Or if you're already in space, you're not going to the right space; maybe you burnt too long or too short, maybe you miscalculated the vessel's center of mass... Either way, you're going somewhere not-where-you-meant-to-go.

That's the kind of thing that makes a PhD mathematician reach for the dice on an Easy roll. Also the kind of thing that may make her player reach for the Moxie.

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