In the standard d20 world, there exist the ‘Take 10’ and ‘Take 20’ rules, the former to reflect everyday work when not under stress and the latter to represent taking one’s time until one gets it just right. To me these two rules don’t properly reflect either reality or the heroic feel of a game where dice are involved.
Think about writing an essay. You could do it formulaically (follow the 5 paragraph rule for instance), ‘Taking 10’ because you’re not taking any risks. Your work comes out as average … but formulaic work is rarely seen as average; see your typical form letter. It’s seen as below average, that you didn’t take the time or effort to make something worthwhile. On the other hand, ‘Taking 20’ means going over and over and over your writing, cleaning up all the mistakes, yes, but at the same time eliminating any risky choices; how could your best work come from just spending more time at it rather than through inspiration? Look at how committees produce workable but often bland results; they’re taking as much time as possible, going down every rabbit hole, to try to find the least risky best solution.
From a game perspective, if there are serious consequences for rolling low and you have the option, why would you want to? Players are apt to ‘Take 10’ rather than risk it. But it sure doesn’t feel heroic or interesting. You’re getting a purely average die roll result; why should player inaction be rewarded with average, rather than below average results?
Further, it’s argued that ‘Taking 20’ works because if you take long enough, you’ll eventually roll a 20. But you’ll also roll a 1, which usually means something bad happens; as much as a natural 20 is seen as a good thing, a critical success, a natural 1 is seen as a bad thing, a critical failure. You’ve broken your lock picks off in the lock, you permanently deleted your masterpiece essay, you accidentally insulted the baron’s daughter’s secret lover by asking him what crimes she’s gotten away with, that sort of thing. Consider diligent police work, where officers are given all the time they need to get to the bottom of things; they do a good job, above average, but they’re not going to be rubbing shoulders with a Sherlock Holmes (even on their off day).
Here I propose dropping both by 5 points; let me introduce to you ‘Take 5’ and ‘Take 15’. Further, ‘Take 5’ can be expanded to a wider variety of circumstances than what are normally allowed or used for ‘Taking 10’.
Some of this, of course, plays into my theory that level 1 characters are not particularly special, and that they need to get some experience in the world before they’re seen as such. Take a DC 20 for picking a simple lock. To me, ‘Taking 20’ doesn’t make a lot of sense, as a rogue is just starting out at this point and shouldn’t be guaranteed a success; they’re likely going to be working with more experienced thieves (being a lookout, running interference, helping carry loot, that sort of thing) until they’ve shown their mettle to be trusted with handling locks. With some luck, on their own, they can open a lock, but it shouldn’t be a sure thing that they can expect to get (that said, with 4 initial ranks plus a Dexterity bonus, ‘Taking 15’ would produce the same results).
This might require some adjustment, as some DCs will now be 5 too high for where they were intended. But for the most part I don’t think it should require much change; tying a firm knot isn’t something that anyone can do (‘Taking 10’ on a Use Rope check), nor is finding out what the local gossip is.
Further, ‘Taking 5’ can be assumed to be the default minimum difficulty for tasks that the character isn’t actively trying to do … if a character isn’t listening for something, that is they don’t have a reason to use their Hear Noise skill, their default roll can be their skill total plus 5; they’re operating on automatic.
This should give an advantage to those characters at low level who take skill points in an area to showcase their specific utility to the group; the Barbarian isn’t going to be Gathering Information just because she can ‘Take 10’, leave that up to the Rogue ‘Taking 5’ (with 4 ranks plus attribute bonus should get it to at least a DC 10).