Adventures In Random Roleplay: Cypher System Edition – Part 5 – The Cypher Paradox: How Difficulty Makes Things Easier

Welcome back, dice fondlers! So far, we’ve constructed six separate characters together, 2 for each Type, each with a random Descriptor and Focus. These characters have a wide variety of potential powers and story hooks. The question then arises “What do we do these characters?” Well, you go play. I mean, go get them. I’ll be here next week for… Oh, you wanted more information? Dang, I thought I had today off.

Wait…No Random Adventures?

Let’s get right to the meat and potatoes of it. While character randomization is totally a thing we can do in Numenera, randomized adventure design out of the core book… isn’t. There are tons of really good reasons for that, but I’m going to stick with the first for now— you don’t need to. Seriously, that’s it. You don’t need to be crazily random in order to get great results with Numenera. You don’t actually need any of the setting material at all once you internalize the key feature of the game: Difficulty.

We talked about Difficulty a little at the start of our Numenera series, but we’re going to take some time to revisit it. Using this system, whenever we have a challenge arise for our characters, we choose how Difficult the task is based on a 1-10 scale. Once we’ve determined the difficulty, we multiply that number by 3. That’s our target number. We can spend points from our pools to add Effort and reduce the Difficulty. We roll a single d20 to see if we succeed, and that’s it. As characters increase in Tier, they can put more points towards Effort at a time, as well as using their Edge traits to pay fewer points overall.

Difficulty & Gameplay

What does this mean for gameplay? Well, to finish grasping that, we have to remember one of the most important rules of Numenera: “The Player Always Rolls.” Your GM doesn’t need to fiddle with any dice themselves because, bluntly, they won’t ever be rolling. Ever. Monsters do blanket damage and players have to roll against the monster’s Difficulty level to attack the monster… or dodge the monster, or charm the monster. See a pattern here?

The most interesting part of this is that once you strip this concept down to its core, you start to understand how Numenera (and its sister property, The Strange) can encapsulate so many awesome and crazy powers. Now, some of you don’t know what I’m talking about yet, while others just started drooling like it was a Pavlovian response. The droolers are going to be predominantly Gamemasters of one stripe or another. Give the nearest drooler to you a napkin and we’ll continue.

The Beauty of the Cypher Paradox

See, once you’ve grasped that everything is just a matter of tracking Difficulty, suddenly, the details of a challenge are much less important. I can reskin any monster in a hurry. I know the target number to hit or to defend— I’m the one that sets it since I’m determining how Difficult I want the new creature to be. Monsters have approximately their Target Number in health, and their attacks typically deal approximately their Difficulty in damage. If you want to make a creature significantly more challenging at a certain Difficulty level, double their Target Number to determine their health. Numenera has quite a bit of resource management built into its Pools/Effort system, so this design trick of doubling health isn’t as lame as doing the same thing in Dungeons and Dragons. In DnD, expanding hit points will often just make a boring fight longer. In Numenera, a creature with any significant hit point boost becomes a serious threat that players need to evaluate how cost-effective killing this enemy would actually be. These aren’t hard and fast rules, as the bestiary of Numenera will show, but they are some extremely useful guidelines that have served me well.

With the ability to make any monster or obstacle in a hurry because of the Difficulty system, GMs will find their capacity for creating content is unleashed. Many will find that they can port their characters to any number of home-brewed worlds with almost alarming ease. That’s the real secret of Numenera and The Strange: the possibilities are not only endless but relatively easy to develop on your own. I hope this has given you a little bit of insight into the multitude of directions you can take your game and how easy it is to get there. That’s all for this week. So I’ll catch you again next time, and remember…



Written by: Jason A. Clark

Writer, Salesman, Cartographer of The Weird Realms In My Head

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