I understand that in numenera players roll against an enemies difficulty level, but when using a cypher is that the same type of roll.

It makes sense for one time cyphers like an explosive grenade throw could be a speed or might dc check.

What about cyphers that are multiple rounds like the Overwatch Slayer that does level + 2 damage for level rounds. Does the player roll each round to hit the enemy against its DC and if so can they spend effort etc to hit? If they don't roll each round is the damage just automatic?


2 Answers 2


Cyphers require an attack, usually Int-based (with a few exceptions).

From the Numenera Corebook, p84:

Each character gets one turn each round. On a character’s turn, she can do one thing—an action. All actions fall into one of three categories: Might, Speed, or Intellect (just like the three stats). Many actions require die rolls—rolling a d20.

Every action performs a task, and every task has a difficulty that determines what number a character must reach or surpass with a die roll to succeed. Most tasks have a difficulty of 0, which means the character succeeds automatically. ... Actions that are usually difficult or that become difficult due to the situation (such as shooting at a target in a blizzard) have a higher difficulty. These actions usually require a roll.

From the Numenera Corebook, p280 (emphasis mine):

If a character uses a cypher, the action to use it is Intellect based unless otherwise described or logic suggests otherwise. For example, throwing a detonation might be Speed based because the device is physical and not really technical, but using a ray emitter is Intellect based.

So every action requires a roll unless it's clearly trivial. Cyphers require an Int roll unless Might or Speed makes more sense.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is it Intellect for making it work, making it work right, or "targetting"? I'm asking because there's a world of difference between the option in case of failure. \$\endgroup\$
    – Raphael
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 13:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Raphael Off the top of my head I don't recall any rules covering that detail. If you want to actually post a new question I suppose I could dig up my rulebook and look it up, but for a comment all you're getting is a snap judgement. Targeting seems like it might be more about Speed than Intellect. Whether the check is to get it to work correctly or to work at all is probably a GM decision based on the cypher in question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 14:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Raphael Actually, now that I think about it targeting could be Intellect-based in some cases; it depends on how intuitive operating the cypher is. Something that's essentially a gun would be Speed because it's mainly about having it pointed in the right direction when you pull the trigger. If the cypher is more complicated, like the controls for a drone or artillery piece, where targeting isn't just a matter of pointing it at what you want to shoot, then Int would definitely be more appropriate. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 14:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, there's the following passage from p99 that makes it clear that these rolls are required when using cyphers: Special abilities are things like esoteries, abilities granted through a character’s focus, or powers granted by cyphers or artifacts. If a special ability affects another character in any kind of unwanted manner, it’s handled as an attack. This passage and the two you quoted (or very similar ones) are also found in Numenera Discovery, so they apply to Numenera 2 as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – ikegami
    Commented Oct 4, 2020 at 19:53

The Numenera Corebook on p280 says:

[Using a cypher that is not identified] is usually an Intellect task using the cypher's level.

And then:

Identified cyphers can be used automatically.

Therefore, there is no test for activating the cypher in the way it's supposed to be activated. If the cypher does something like make the character breathe water or give a damage boost to their weapon, that is all there is to it.

If, however, there is some action left for the character to do, like e.g.

  • aim the ray cannon at a target,
  • throw the explosive, or
  • float up to the window,

this action requires a test just like performing the same action with and ordinary weapon or tool. The cypher may influence the difficulty as an asset, though; a character made lighter by a cypher has an easier time climbing.

The pool to use for the action which uses the cypher depends on circumstance and logic. Most weapon cyphers will probably use Speed, one that creates an illusion will use Intellect.

  • \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, the wording in the Strange and Cypher corebooks is exactly the same. \$\endgroup\$
    – Raphael
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 15:04

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