The Math of Cypher System

I finally took a look at Cypher System (Monte’s Cook’s newish generic system that powers Numenera and The Strange), since so many people had been suggesting it when I was looking at cyberpunk settings. And I just can’t get past the math.

The core mechanic of Cypher System is the GM assigning a difficulty between 1 and 10, then the player adjusting that down with skill, effort, help, etc. The final difficulty is then multiplied by 3 to get a target number, and you have to roll over the target number on a d20.

Wait, what? Why are we multiplying by 3? That doesn’t change the probabilities at all. In that system, you can never have a target number of 11. You get 9 or 12 from difficulty 3 or 4. There’s no in between. 10 and 11 are useless rolls that hold no extra information or benefit over rolling a 9.

The probabilities are identical to just rolling 1d6 vs. the difficulty directly, with one minor difference - in Cypher system’s way, you can fail at the difficulty 1 task 10% of the time (rolling a 1 or 2 on d20). The probabilities are otherwise exactly the same. Rolling a 3 on the d6 is exactly the same as rolling a 9 10 or 11 on a d20. A 6 is like an 18, etc. I guess the one other difference is that Cypher gives you extra benefits when you roll 17+ (tiers of critical hits).

What I really don’t get is why there’s even a concept of the difficulty number. The very first time you see difficulty number, it’s included with a table of the target number that goes with it…. if you just chopped off the difficulty number column, you’d have the same system and you’d save yourself a step, plus you’d give yourself the ability to be more granular.

Just starting with a target number from 1-30 is a lot clearer odds when you know you’re rolling a d20. What’s more, reducing the difficulty by 1 (and thus the target number by 3) generally costs… 3 points from an attribute pool. Why are we not just directly subtracting those points from the target number? If they still wanted to restrict it to batches of 3, well, ok, but still, directly applying it to the target number seems a lot more straight forward.

Skill training can reduce your difficulty by one or two steps as well. But instead of having “skilled or expert climber” and knowing that reduces climbinb difficulty by 1 or 2 steps, you could just have “climb +3 or climb +6” and add that to your roll directly.

It’s like this was all contorted to be different just for the sake of being different…. while at the same time losing a ton of granularity over a regular d20 system.

Cypher: The wall is climb difficulty 6.. ouch. Ok, so I am expert at climbing, so that’s -2, my gear gives me a step, that’s -1, and Bill will help belay me, that’s another -1, so difficulty 2, multiplied by 3 is 6 (rolls d20).

d20: The wall is climb difficulty 18.. ouch. Ok, so I am expert at climbinb, so that’s +6, my gear gives me +3, and Bill will help belay me, that’s another +3, so +12 (rolls d20)

Not sure I see the purpose… at least in d20 you can hand out +1 for small modifiers, or +4 for large if you want.