Home » Ancient Posts » D&D Skills: Tightrope Walking and the Cirque du Soleil — The Real Problem isn’t “the Math”    
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Aside from the DC. I read the current rules to suggest that as a DM I should not require any check for a Cirque du Soleil performer doing their normal routine.

The combination of aptitude, training, experience, practice, optimal circumstances and prior successful performances mean that the normal performance is "so easy" for the elite professional acrobat there is no significant chance of failure. (The chance exists, but it would need to be "significant" for me to require a roll.)

To me this is both sensible and helps make the game more fun by rolling the dice when events really matter.

I would probably require a check if the performer was trying to elicit a special reaction from the audience–not for catastrophic failure of the routine but for the effect on the audience. And I would certainly require one if they were pushing the envelope of their normal routine in a way that added significant risk of failure.

Here are the rules passages I see as especially on point.

"If a character attempts an action that has a significant chance of failure, have the player make an ability check."

"Is the action being taken so easy, so free of stress or conflict, or so appropriate to the situation that there should be no chance of failure? 'So easy' should take into account the ability score associated with the intended action."

"If the player makes clever use of the situation in the description, consider either granting an automatic success or advantage on the ability check."


@Christopher John Brennan: You're right, changing the DC is the easy and obvious solution to the tightrope walking problem. People tried to point this out in the thread, but were pretty much ignored by all the posters blaming this on "the math".


@jackstoolbox: I have no desire for some "big book of modifiers" that lists the DC for every possible action and a list of modifiers to each of those action DCs based on all the circumstances that might affect the difficulty of that action the game designers think of. That just wastes time in the game as the GM has to look everything up and compute the DC.

Instead, I think there should be a column or two of text teaches the GM how to decide if a given task in a given situation is easy, average, hard, very hard, etc. And just use the DC assigned to the level of difficulty selected. It's much faster in play.

You are correct that the DC is far too high for the tightrope example.

But that's easily fixed by a DM applying the general DC criteria in the rules.

Walking a tight, level rope without any distraction should be no more than a DC 15 moderate task–"someone with a combination of natural aptitude and specialized training can accomplish a moderate task more often than not".

Adding a complicating factor (moving quickly, doing something else while moving reasonably slowly, slack rope, etc) should bump it to a DC 20 hard task. "Even with aptitude and training, a character needs some amount of luck—or a lot of specialized training—to pull off a hard task."

DC 25 very hard tasks should involve something like a combination of 2 complicating factors while on the rope. "Only especially talented individuals need even try their hand at very hard tasks." This is far too high a DC for something like normal tightrope walking in good conditions.


I think I'd disagree that Take 10 isn't the automatic success we need (I'm curious why you think it's not), but otherwise yes, I very much agree with you here.

I personally think that D&D 3.5 got a lot of what you're talking about here "right," and there's a good post at The Alexandrian that goes in to a bit of that — but the fact remains that for "the math" to work out we need to have reasonable and realistic DCs (which is where WotC and ad hoc DMing usually fails).

I don't reallY agree that the DM should simply pluck a difficulty out of the air, and I don't think that's what you're saying – instead I think we need to have a Base DC, and then have fairly static penalties for various circumstances (upward grade -2, greased shoes -1, juggling -2, riding a unicycle -5) so that the DM can have an objective basis for their decision. We can't and shouldn't have a comprehensive list of such circumstances, but having examples to work from lends consistency from one check to the next (why is this rope harder to cross? The material's slicker, etc).

But VERY YES to the notion that failure isn't disaster. In general, I think GMs have a notion that every check has to be "meaningful", so every failure must be dire. Checks should be meaningful, but that means "don't make meaningless checks," not "every failure is disaster."

Rachel Ghoul

As to the DC issue, I think that's just a partial restatement of what they meant by "the Math" in the first place. The DC for it is so high that there's no hope of being consistently capable.


Very good post. Good points, well presented!