The Foolish descriptor on p. 73 of the Cypher System Rulebook seems to be intended for playing characters who are idiots. A character with this descriptor has -4 to their Intellect pool, and all expenditures from that pool have +1 to their cost. They also have +1 to the difficulty of some kinds of task: Intellect defence tasks, and rolls to spot illusions, disguises and traps. That increased difficulty adds +3 to their d20 target numbers for those tasks.

The benefit of being Foolish is that you get to roll twice for all tasks and take the higher roll. And that's huge. It raises your average roll by just over three, negating the increased difficulties, and making all other tasks much easier. Your chance of rolling a 1 drops from 5% to 0.25%, and your chance of rolling a 20 rises from 5% to 9.25%. Here's an Anydice program you can use to look at the statistics. I haven't found any other descriptors or foci in the rules that have this benefit: it seems to be unique to Foolish.

This looks overly advantageous for any character who isn't based on spending Intellect points. Have I missed something in the rules?


2 Answers 2


You haven't missed anything. It's stupidly broken and should be house ruled. The good thing is it's easy to house rule.

For my games, I just say you get one re-roll per 10 hour recovery. If you get a 1 this refreshes the reroll slot. Any combination of limiting the reroll - heck even allowing burning Intellect points for rerolls - is still good, keeps with the theme, introduces a cost and balances things out.

Cypher system isn't hyper focused on balance- but things can still be completely unbalanced to the point of taking away from the game. Thankfully, the system is modular and easy to customize.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. How has your proposed house-rule worked out, in your experience? (Does it do a good job of addressing this issue, and/or does it introduce any other problems?) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 19:18

The Cypher System does not define "balance" in terms of mechanical superiority

From the "Running the Cypher System" section, under "Balancing Encounters" (pg. 434-435):

In the Cypher System, there is no concept of a “balanced encounter."

In a game like the Cypher System, if everyone’s having fun, the game is balanced.

The book goes on to mention two things that can "unbalance" the game. The first is if one PC is "far more interesting" than the others, and the second is if the PCs "routinely" face challenges that are too easy or too difficult.

To your point, it does seem that the "Foolish" descriptor is quite strong when compared to other descriptors, especially so for a character that isn't built to rely on their Intellect pool. But, is the descriptor so "overly advantageous" that it will unbalance the game, according to Cypher System's definition of what constitutes "balance?" I don't think so.

A character with the "Foolish" Descriptor will not necessarily be more "interesting" than the other characters with an effective +3 on most rolls, nor will they "routinely" trivialize challenges (even if they do tend to roll better on challenges!). In fact, the main issue with the Descriptor, according to the "Foolish" sidebar, is a player monopolizing the spotlight by roleplaying a character that's so foolish it becomes annoying!


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