Rules Overview

Published January 27, 2014 by in For Gamemasters, For Players, Mechanics

Joshua Wahl from the Numenera fans Google+ group was asking around recently for a brief overview of the rules of Numenera for new players, so I thought I’d put one together for today’s post.  For the sake of brevity this doesn’t include character creation or XP use, which might also be useful to go over with new players.  Here goes:

Rolling a Task

When attempting an action that would need a roll you’re going to roll a 20 sided die against a Target Number.  Equal or exceed this number and you succeed on the roll.

The Target Number is determined by the Difficulty of the roll, on a scale from 1 to 10.  Difficulty 1 tasks are super easy, and Difficulty 10 tasks are nearly impossible.  However, you can lower the Difficulty of a task a number of ways:

  • Favorable circumstances, such as superior equipment or an advantageous position are called Assets.  You can have up to two Assets on any given roll, each of which reduces the Difficulty by one step.
  • Spending points from your stat Pools is called using Effort.  You can spend pool in this way a number of times up to your Effort score (which starts at 1 at first Tier).  See the section below about Pool, Edge, and Effort for details on how to do this.
  • The Difficulty of a task is reduced by your Skill in that task (1 for being trained, 2 for being specialized).  Since you can never have more skill than Specialized, the Difficulty can never be reduced by more than two steps by your Skill.

Once you know your final Difficulty on the roll, you multiply it by 3 to get the Target Number for the roll.

Special Rolls

Certain rolls generate special effects when rolled, and these are slightly different on an attack roll than on any other task roll:

  • On any skill roll a natural 19 grants a Minor Effect, which is a nice little added effect coming from the action, such as a stylish flourish or slightly more advantageous situation.
  • On any Skill roll a natural 20 grants a Major Effect, which is a very nice added outcome, such as knocking a foe to the ground, gaining a huge advantage in battle, or learning a great deal of information.  Think of this like a “crit” that can affect the story.
  • On an attack roll, a natural 17 gives you +1 damage, 18 gives +2 damage, 19 grants +3 damage or a Minor Effect, and 20 adds +4 damage or a Major Effect.
  • On a natural roll of 1, an Intrusion is triggered.  This is a stroke of bad luck that can take many forms.  The GM will determine what happens, but it will generally be something bad, like a loss of a weapon, enemy reinforcements showing up, or gaining a lot of false information.

Pool, Edge, and Effort

Each character will have three stat Pools that represents their reserve of energy and ability.  These are Might (strength and endurance), Speed (agility and dexterity), and Intellect (personality and smarts).  Your Pool maximums will generally be determined by your Type and Descriptor.

Pool points are spent to fuel abilities and spend Effort on a roll.  They also serve as the equivalent of hit points.  If you run out of points in a Pool, you move one step down the condition track.  When taking damage in combat, points are lost first from your Might Pool, then your Speed Pool, then your Intellect Pool.

In order to spend points from your Pools for Effort, it takes three points for the first level of Effort, and two for each additional level.  These must all come from the same Pool, which should be one that makes sense for the task at hand.  Speed for dodging attacks, Intellect for persuasion, etc.  You can only reduce the Difficulty of a roll by a number of steps equal to your Effort rating.  So, a First Tier character with only 1 Effort rating could only take one Effort on any given roll.

Expenditures are discounted each round by a number of Pool points equal to your Edge for that Pool.  This includes both Effort and expenditures to use abilities.

So, for instance, an Intellect Edge of 1 would reduce the cost of using Effort from your Intellect Pool by 1 each round.  It would also reduce the cost of Intellect based powers by one each round.  If you used an Intellect power in the same round you used Intellect Effort, it would only reduce the total points for the round, not for both the cost of the power and the Effort.

GM Intrusions

GM’s may elect to introduce a complication for a PC, by Intruding.  This means the character has something bad happen to them at that moment, such as a fumble of an important object or a slowly breaking rope.   The player is given one XP for their troubles and another XP to give to another player of their choice.

A player affected by a GM Intrusion can reject it if they wish.  They don’t get the XP for the Intrusion, and they must pay one XP they already had to accomplish this.

NOTE: Intrusions from rolled 1’s do not grant the player XP.  Only the GM initiated ones!

Armor, Shields, and Weapons

Armor is generally classified as light, medium, or heavy, providing 1, 2, or 3 Armor rating respectively.  This number is subtracted from damage taken in most combat situations.

Shields take up a hand slot and subtract one from the Difficulty of a Speed Defense roll.

Weapons are classified as light, medium, or heavy.   Light weapons reduce the Difficulty of the attack roll by one, and deal 2 damage on a hit.  Medium weapons deal 4 damage.  Heavy weapons take two hands and deal 6 damage.

Ranged weapons work similar to melee weapons, but they can be used at range and they require ammo.  Using a ranged weapon at Immediate distance (10 feet or so) grants you an Asset on the attack roll.

  • Adriano Varoli Piazza

    Good article. You might want to clarify that XP is not given out for intrusions triggered by a natural 1 roll.

    • Ryan Chaddock


  • Ryan Chaddock

    Woops, had the cost for Effort backwards. I always do that. Fixed.

  • Aldarc

    Isn’t the difficulty of tasks technically on a scale from 0 to 10?

  • Nice, I’m going to use this. Is it worth clarifying that Players don’t routinely know what the actual difficulty is? Perhaps something on co-operative actions?

  • Darcy Ross

    One thing I often see people messing up on their first time (including me) is assuming that the difficulty to identify a cypher is its level. Usually, it’s a level 1 or 2 for a cypher. Also, some people tend to think that “practiced with weapons” indicated training in a set of weapons, when it really just enables the use of them without extra difficulty. Not sure if these really fit here, but I see them come up a lot in podcast actual plays I listen to 🙂

  • Craig Steinhoff

    Quick question….I was thinking the only time you got a effect Major or Minor was when you rolled a 19 or 20 on a none attack roll. In the core Rule book page 88 the Special Rolls section. I believe that was done that way to allow for major things to happen without an attack, so the use of distraction can also crit. Just wondering because you have effects happening on attack rolls also?