Changing task difficulty in a Cypher game can be done by both the players and the GM. It’s a central part of the system, but there’s still some confusion about it. Hopefully this post will clear things up a bit.

Discovery page 103 has the rules on how the players do it:

By using skills, assets, and Effort, you can ease a task by a maximum of ten steps.

…no task’s difficulty will ever be reduced by more than four steps without using Effort.

…free level of Effort can exceed the Effort limit for your character, but not the six-step limit for easing a task.

So far so good. We can imagine these as slots. At 6th Tier, ten easing slots are available to the player:

  • Skills 2 slots [ ] [ ]
  • Assets 2 slots [ ] [ ]
  • Effort 6 slots [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

But then you come across an ability like this:

Parry (5 Speed points)
…for the next ten rounds you ease all Speed defense rolls. Enabler.

Where does this fit in the slot system we laid out? Is it a skill? By the time Parry comes into play at Tier 5, you might already be specialized in Speed defense, and have your 2 skill slots filled in. In this case, if we choose to treat Parry as a skill, it’s useless unless we add a 3rd skill slot (which clearly goes against the rules above).

And some abilities would really go against the rules if we regard them as skills:

Psychokinetic Attack(5 Intellect points)
…the task is eased by three steps compared to breaking it with brute strength. Action

There are other examples in the rules like:

If a character is behind cover so that a significant portion of their body is behind something sturdy, attacks against the character are hindered.

So what’s the answer? For cases like this, all modifiers that are not called out as an asset or a skill are taken into account by the GM when determining task difficulty, and do not expend any slots. This easing and hindering happens before the player’s skills, assets, or Effort come into play.

A player activates Parry? The GM eases their Speed defense DC for the next 10 rounds. No skill slots needed.

Lunged into cover? The DC is eased by the GM. No asset slot is used.

Note that there are some abilities that do specifically use asset and skill slots. As an aside, I don’t generally like abilities that use up these slots. When designing scenes I make sure to think about several assets for players to find and use, so my games benefit from keeping those slots open.

For reading: MCG blog post on asset limits