I’ve had a few questions about why the game pins the target number for action rolls and resistance rolls at 10. Here’s the thing. Shadow of the Demon Lord does not pretend that your characters are moving through an invisible lattice of numbers, nor does it posit that the game system is always running in the background. Instead, the game is one in which you and your friends tell stories about an ensemble cast of characters and the horrors they face, the conspiracies they uncover, the weird locations they explore, and the challenges they overcome through it all. The rules are there for when something would happen in the story and you’re not sure about the outcome.
This means if your character attempts to climb a wall that has plenty of handholds and he or she is not under pressure, he or she climbs the darn wall. Why? It’s a reasonable outcome and it keeps the story moving forward. Now if your character made the same attempt while being attacked by winged demons that poop blood and fire on you, the outcome is no longer so certain and a roll would be appropriate.
Action rolls assume that a typical person in the world has about an even chance for success or failure. The game nudges it up by 5% to make tasks a bit more favorable and also so you can look at the die when you roll it and know you succeed when you see two numbers on the die. Setting the target number at 10 is also easy for the GM to remember. A GM doesn’t have to remember a stack of different target numbers and recall what target numbers go to which task.
Obviously some tasks are harder than others and other tasks are easier. Enter boons and banes. Each positive circumstance gives you a boon. Each negative circumstance gives you a bane. Boons and banes cancel each other out. Boons might source from talents gained from your paths, assistance from another character, a tool, or a magical effect. Banes can come from afflictions such as being fatigued or poisoned or from environmental and situational factors. Since you don’t add boons or banes, you’re just looking for the highest number on the d6s. The most you’ll ever add or subtract from your roll is 6, so handing out extra boons puts a limit on inflating numbers and keeps the d20 roll important.
Here are a few example situations where action rolls could come into play.
A character attempts to walk across a tightrope
Since most people can’t pull this off, a GM would call for a roll to see if the character can move across the tightrope or make some progress moving across it. The surface’s narrowness warrants one bane. The bounciness of the rope warrants another. And let’s say the character carries a lot of gear, imposing a third bane. It’s possible, but unlikely.
Now, if the character has a profession related to the task, the GM might knock off one or two of the banes. And if that character wasn’t carrying a lot of gear and wasn’t under pressure, the character should probably cross the tightrope without having to make a roll. Why? Because the person knows how to walk across tightropes and is going to make it across unless there’s some environmental effect (wind) or circumstance (the tightrope is covered in mayonnaise) that would make the attempt difficult.
A character attempts to open a lock with a set of lock picks
Most people don’t know how to use lock picks, but a character making the attempt could be lucky. The GM might call for a roll. Assuming the character does not have a profession related to the task, the GM imposes a bane if the lock is ordinary or just rule the task impossible if the lock is superior. A character with a burglar profession or something similar would just succeed on the task—again, because the character knows how to pick locks—if he or she is not under pressure. The character may have to make an action roll to unlock a complex lock or simpler lock if the attempt is made in a tough circumstance.
A character attempts to kick in a door
A strong character ought to be able to kick in the door. Yes, yes, it’s funny the first time a strong character fails to knock open a door thanks to a crappy roll and a scrawny character comes in behind the first character and succeeds on the roll. But after a couple of times, it gets a bit weird. Rather than even dealing with that situation, the GM should rule that the strong character kicks down the blasted door and keep the story going. If the door is secured, then the GM could call for a Strength roll and impose one or more banes depending on how the door has been secured.
You roll dice when you don’t know what happens next. Common sense prevails in Shadow of the Demon Lord. If it makes sense that something should happen, then let it. If it doesn’t, don’t let. If it could happen, but you’re not sure, let the dice decide.