So two of my favorite games right now have had a bit of an influence on my perspectives on GMing as of late. Insofar that I think in general I’m a little more inclined to be more transparent about the mechanics facing players. I’ve never really been one to try and hide them in the first place, but 13th Age and especially Numenera have had me all the more open to talking about what’s going on behind the scenes.
13th Age makes it mostly a matter of courtesy, and I’m down with that. A number of player abilities only kick in if an enemy is say a mook, staggered, or meets some condition otherwise. If the player uses this ability on an invalid target, it’s gonna be wasted. So if a player asks me if it meets the conditions, I’m going to say if it does. Because, fun. It’s cool to use awesome abilities. It stinks to use one and it be simply wasted. This extends to if a player wants to run an idea by me. I’ll tell them if it’s likely to be a bad idea. (Though in general, I’m also inclined to be flexible, again, in the name of fun. The players just have to understand that we’re not necessarily setting a precedent.) I also have a built in measure to give the players a rough idea of the difficulty they’re facing. 13th Age is divided into three discrete tiers of general difficulty. I can let them know something is above their current pay grade without necessarily giving them the numbers to the challenge.
Numenera has me taking this a step further. The rules don’t require this, but I do feel like they handle it quite nicely. If a player wants to do something, I have no problem telling them the DC flat out. That way they can help change it. Be it reminding me of what skills they have, what assets they might be able to work in, and just how much effort they want to put in. This is quite a bit different from other games I’ve run where I tell them “Yeah, that’d be a pretty easy task for you,” or “That’s going to be extremely difficult.” In those cases I come up with a quick difficulty, and they roll to see if they can meet it. What I like about the transparency here is that the players are getting what I would consider an extremely fair take on their odds of success. Both before, and after they try to adjust them. There’s no room for misinterpretation. They know exactly how difficult something is going to be, and can decide if it’s worth a shot.
Now don’t get me wrong here, in that I don’t think I’m inclined to take the idea of completely transparent difficulty and try to port it into every game I run. However I definitely do appreciate it in games where I’m doing it. And I think my players enjoy it at all. If anything it’s just made me all the more inclined to think I should clearly convey difficulty in the future all the more. Even if I’m not telling the players exactly what their mechanical challenges are, I want to make sure they’re empowered to make informed decisions as to how risky it is for their character.