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In Numenera, an NPC's description could be e.g.

Malik Harcrow: level 5, level 6 at all subterfuge- related tasks, level 7 at lockpicking

Now, I understand how players would attack or defend against Malik, and even the subterfuge tasks, which more-or-less would map to D&D's perception checks. But I am at a loss to see how players -which are supposed to make all rolls- would actually face a lockpicking by Malik.

Please note, I'm more interested in non-combat or non/antagonistic based answers. Most stuff are interpretable if I think of combat:

Jesra Cris: level 3, level 1 at all tasks involving sight.

Why, that's when she tries to spot the group (and likely fails). Players gain surprise. But say the players are interacting with Ames,

Ames Gylley: level 3, level 5 at numenera knowledge

and try to use his knowledge. What does that "level 5 mean"? That he's harder to persuade about sharing his numenera knowledge than other stuff he knows? Am I supposed to forget the exact number and just think "ok, Malik is a great lockpick" and roleplay the interaction without dice (not that that would be bad, mind)?

I can think of one general interpretation: pair the NPC against the task to be accomplished. Say the players want to understand an artifact of level 7 they found, and none are especially knowledgeable on the matter. They could talk to Ames. He's level 5 for that task. Should the GM roll for him?

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Regarding the Ames example: Wouldn't level 5 at numenera knowledge just mean that he knows more about numenera than he does about other things? My read is that his knowledge would be orthogonal to whether he dispenses it or not. I'd think getting him to part with specific knowledge would be an Intellect roll. –  Erik Schmidt Oct 30 '13 at 15:35

2 Answers 2

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The GM always sets the difficulties that need to be beaten, as such, when players interact with an NPC that requires the NPC to do something (such as asking him to pick a lock for them) you decide the difficulty of the lock and if the NPC isn't high enough level to meet or beat that DC, they fail.

An NPC who is Level 5 at Lockpicking always succeeds (unless you don't want them to) at beating any lock with a difficulty up to and including level 5, but auto-fails at anything higher, in much the same way as the higher levelled NPC in a battle between two NPCs always wins.

Essentially NPC abilities levels can be compared directly against Difficulty levels for determining outcome, but as GM you can always just overrule if you prefer one outcome over the other (or chuck in an intrusion).

For cases where a player is trying to convince an NOC to do something, that's the GM deciding a difficulty level, using the NPCs level as a baseline, and having the players roll to beat it.

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Thanks! Is this in the corebook somewhere, and I missed it? –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Oct 30 '13 at 16:05
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The sidebar on page 98 covers in brief situations that involve only PCs and the paragraph on Levels on page 85 talks about tasks and levels. While it's not spelled out explicitly, those two pieces together pretty much confirm that you use compare levels when dealing with NPCs versus NPCs or NPCs versus Tasks. –  darkliquid Oct 30 '13 at 16:13

I think that interventions were created, in part, to answer that. If an NPC does a task for a PC, then an intervention is warranted: The lock is open but broken so anyone can see it's been forced. The PC gain the answer to their question but a vital piece of information is missing/misleading. The PC get the task done but some complication arise. Remember that the PC can cancel the intervention with one XP if they think the price is too high. If not, you just gave them two XP to play with.

If not, let the NPC succeed or fail based on where you want the plot line to go. A little more than forget about the numbers but would X be able to do/know Y? If you think it's reasonable, then they do know it.

As for the lock pick rolling. If the lock was created/improved by a PC or if the PC are relying on the lock for protection, then they should role a defence against Malik picking it.

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