I Love Me A Good Redcap

I like the lore, the gore, and the story of it. Iron shoes stomping lonely travelers and then, just to add insult to death, the Redcap dips their cap in their victims blood to keep themselves sated. Nice and gruesome. So I dropped one into my game, called it The Redcap, capital THE, as part of a dark fey thing going on in my campaign. Thing was I wanted to make the Red Cap part of the Redcap a little more special. So I came up with a mechanic to allow the players to rip the cap off its head. A Descending Difficult Check.

I’m going to give you the example first and then follow it up with the format so you can use this idea in a game where it would make sense.

The Redcap’s cap provides the creature with a bunch of buffs: extra defenses, damage reduction, stronger attacks. The Difficulty Check to pull the cap off the Redcap’s head started at 30. Just about impossible in the game we were playing. Every time someone managed to grab the Redcap’s hat and try to pull it off but failed, the DC was reduced by 2. This meant with effort, in the form of actions taken, the difficulty would eventually be lowered enough so the cap could be taken off the Redcap’s head. Once that was done those buffs disappeared and any damage done to the cap would deal double damage to the Redcap.

Outlining This Process

With the example set up let’s talk about outlining the process for building out a descending difficulty check.

  1. Situation. You need a tense situation where effort over a short time would matter. Getting the cap off the Redcap’s head.
  2. Stakes. Figure out what the stakes are for engaging with the task. Removing the cap from the Redcap greatly weakens it.
  3. Difficulty. Decide the level of difficulty you want to set the task at but don’t tie it to a skill or ability. If someone comes up with an idea that makes sense in some way, utilize the mechanics of your game to give it a chance. DC 30 to remove the hat.
  4. Actions. What taking action will do. Decide how much a check will lower that difficulty. You can put levels into this if you’d like. For instance, with the Redcap I could say only a check that was over 15 would reduce the difficulty by 2 and any check below 15 only reduced the difficulty by 1.

With those steps you have a descending difficulty check for your game.

A More Complex Example

Let’s come up with another more complex example with some different parameters. I think I’ll use that well known Dragons with Dungeons RPG.

Situation: There’s a magical ritual that is currently summoning something terrible into the world. Powering the ritual is a head cultist and their allies. 

Stakes: In order to shut down the ritual you need to understand how it works. Once you understand how it works you need to shut it down. The longer this goes on the longer you have to deal with the empowered cult. To make things worse, if four rounds pass a very powerful demonic entity is summoned and then you’ll have to deal with the entity. This creates a two step process with the stakes being an empowered group of cultists and the potential summoning of a powerful demonic entity. Let’s flesh out the first step.

Step 1

Setting the Difficulty

Understanding the Ritual. DC 40 This game has an action economy so I’m going to want to take into account how that affects understanding the ritual. We’re only letting someone try understanding the ritual once per round. They can either use a free action or a bonus action 

What acting will do

  • If you try for free. A roll above 20 reduces the DC by 2. A roll above 10 reduces the DC by 1. A roll below 10 increases the DC by 2 as poor information has been given, confusing the situation.
  • If you use a bonus action. A roll above 20 reduces the DC by 5. A roll above 10 reduces the DC by 3. A roll below 10 increases the DC by 2 as poor information has been given, confusing the situation.

I chose this design because it allows for players to take a regular action to do things while trying to figure out what’s up with the ritual. It also has a risk element so that if a character who isn’t competent at figuring out magical rituals tries to help, they could end up interfering with the operation by increasing the difficulty. 

Now that we’ve done it once, let’s do it again.

Step 2

Setting the Difficulty

Shutting down the ritual. DC 30. Let’s up the stakes a little here since we’re acting and not just trying to study and understand something. It’s either use a bonus action or a regular action and we’ll put the rider on here that the PC’s action needs to be something that can interact with the ritual, so magic or some kind of action that messes with the ritual. 

What acting will do

  • If you use a bonus action. A roll above 20 reduces the DC by 2. A roll above 15 reduces the DC by 1. A roll below 15 causes magical backlash dealing 4d6 damage to the character but still decreases the DC by 1.
  • If you use a regular action. A roll above 20 reduces the DC by 4. A roll above 15 reduces the DC by 2. A roll below 15 causes magical backlash dealing 4d6 damage to the character but still decreases the DC by 1.

I chose this design because it ups the stakes by making the players need to use their actions to accomplish the task, which creates choices. Plus, a failure doesn’t strengthen the ritual but causes the magic from the ritual to lash out and harm the character. This feels more appropriate for the situation.

The other thing that can happen here is the Head Cultist can try and put their will against the ritual to try and strengthen it to keep it going. The Head Cultist, instead of casting spells or fighting with the player characters, can take their action to make a spellcasting check to reinforce the ritual. Just use the same what acting will do section but instead of decreasing the DC their actions increase the DC. It’ll put another choice on the board for what the players should do. Interact with the ritual, deal with the Head Cultist, keep the Head Cultist from strengthening the ritual, or deal with the other cultists. Not only that, but handle the ritual in 4 rounds or deal with something worse.

So that’s a more complicated example just to show off some different ideas surrounding the concept of a descending difficulty check. I’m curious to hear if others have tried things like this in their games and how they’ve made it work. I’m always looking to expand my choice of tools to provide the best experience I can for my players. Also, if you have any thoughts or examples of situations this would work in I’d love to see them in the comments.