Skill challenges are a great little technique for recreating movie-like epic scenes in your game. Imagine submarine combat, the Kessel run, or games like FTL, where each crew member needs to scramble to do their own part in order for the team to succeed.

Challenges are briefly mentioned in the Cypher and Numenera rules under “Special Situation: Chase,” but here we will go further and customize the rules for our own unique situation. I call this skill challenge “Ship in a Storm” and it can be reused for any kind of crew in trouble. You might notice that skills aren’t actually the focus here. In a Cypher game, these challenges are more about players expending their stat pools. There are also bits that were specific to my game, included here for inspiration.

A Ship in a Storm

The players have an air ship that is currently stuck in an electrical storm that is discharging balls of electricity. They need to perform three maneuvers to clear the storm (each could have a different DC, for example DC 9, then 8, then 7). If the pilot doesn’t perform a maneuver on their turn, lightning automatically strikes the ship.

Failure states
On each failed maneuver one ship subsystem is hit. Scene starts with autopilot subsystem fried with first hit (works as exposition to explain danger, and prevents AI to fly the ship)

The ship can be flown by one pilot either by stick (a Speed task) or jacked-in (an Intellect task). Helpful skills include: Understanding numenera, Reflexes, Coordination, Piloting, Machine Interfacing, etc…

Two positions on the ship, the co-pilot seat and sensor post, provide single asset to ship maneuvers if occupied. The ship AI is on the core subsystem, providing optimal power distribution to ship systems.

There are plenty of complications you can introduce. For example, in my game the hover-quad in the ship’s hangar was not secured, and on each maneuver would smash against a wall. If not properly secured it would be destroyed after 3 rounds. Another example is water spilling out of the hydroponics garden, which if not attended means the food supply would be lost…

Subsystems damage
A random subsystem is hit on each failed or missed maneuver.

  • Solar Spike: On 1st hit the batteries can’t recharge. 2nd hit empties the batteries.
  • Gravity Crane: If hit, this hinders maneuver tasks. If operator is at the post, this can’t be hit.
  • Engines: If AI is moved from the engines, maneuver tasks are hindered. Each hit to the engines hinders maneuver tasks by one step.

GM Intrusions
These can be run in between each maneuver depending on the situation.

  • A storm hit causes Intellect damage/stun to anyone who is jacked in to the ship.
  • Sudden jerk throws anyone not buckled in at their posts.
  • Hover-quad can pin a person if someone is trying to secure it.
  • Sudden electrical discharge fries a subsystem.

How to run

On the first electric hit, the AI performs some exposition: we get a damage report (autopilot is fried), storm dangers, the number of maneuvers needed to escape it, and warnings about complications. Players then scramble between managing maneuver DC and solving complications. After each maneuver run one GMI. Once they clear the storm, the players can assess damage and determine how much time and materials are needed for repairs.

Capping a challenge to a fixed number of maneuvers will make determining task difficulty and failure states much easier to manage. I am also not using a “more successes than failures” because the outcome is not binary - between crashing and coming out of the storm unscathed there is a range of possible states.