Success or failure is nice, but degrees of success is better.
Since back in the playtest period for Numenera my various player groups have elected to forego the standard system of binary success or failure in the core rules of Numenera, electing instead to use the Graduated Success model presented in the Using the Rules chapter of the corebook, on page 333. My players find this system more familiar, as most of them are old White Wolf game players and they like being able to tell me exactly how well they did.
The Graduated Success rule is simple.
For each difficulty level the players would have hit above the base difficulty of the task, they did a little better than normal. In practice, with my players, it runs a little differently though. Since most of the time my players don’t know what the task difficulty is (I like to keep them in suspense), they just end up telling me what difficulty they hit, including all their Assets, Effort, and Skill level. We usually just call this “Successes”, after the White Wolf term, so I’ll use that here. They shout out their successes and I tell them how well they succeeded. This reduces a lot of the complication of rolls. Without this, they often tell me their raw die roll and difficulty reductions, and little +1 bonuses, and ask me to tell them if they succeeded. With this system things go much more smoothly. If the number they shout out is equal to or higher than the difficulty level I set, they succeed and I’m able to tell them just how well they did.
What are the advantages of this system?
Well degrees of success has the obvious advantage of telling the GM exactly how well a given task was performed. What’s also nice is that when more than one player is doing the same thing, I know who did it better. With perception based rolls I often go in ascending order of success: “You notice movement on the horizon; you notice that movement and see the glint of a metal weapon; and you notice all of that and see the telltale sillhouette of a Murden.”
Additionally, this system allows me to get away with taking my time deciding the difficulty. What the point of working at being fair about whether the difficulty should be 3 or 4 if the player is going to roll 6 successes. Why not let them roll and then decide if that’s enough? Less work for me and the game goes faster and more smoothly. Everybody wins. And if I would have set the difficulty higher than what the player got, I can give partial success through this system pretty easily.
Finally, one major difference is that you never end up skipping a roll due to the difficulty being reduced to zero before the die is cast. This can be good and bad. The bad side is that there will be slightly more rolls than you would have under the standard system. I personally think this is a minor problem, which can be mitigated by not calling for fairly trivial rolls. I often find myself skipping rolls for tasks that are difficulty 3 or lower, since my players’ characters are tier 3. They can usually get at least 3 successes on any roll no matter what. Rolling more also means more opportunities for 20’s and 1’s, which for me is a feature more than a bug, but I know some people don’t like the ups and downs as much as I do.
The positive side of always rolling though is that players get to call out really high successes somtimes. The first time someone gets over ten successes is a joyous moment, worth seeing. Knowing that they not only hit the mark, but could have hit almost any mark related to the situation can really add a lot more information to the roll. Now I, the GM, know to really give the players something for their roll. This can often be as dramatic as rolling a 20.
The Graduated Success rule rewards players for using Effort in almost every situation.
If they fail, it means they’re closer to getting some kind of partial success from me. If they succeed, it means they have a higher number of successes to call out after the roll, which means we give them more information or control over the situation.
Incentive to spend points on Effort is great, from a GM perspective, since it’s essentially a self inflicted wound. The resource management of the Cypher system can really add a level of tension to a game, and this rule change, as minor as it sounds, really adds to the temptation to spend rather than save those precious points.
So try it out, see how it goes. This might be just what you need to spice up your game.