Living for Crits Reviews The Sun Below: City on the Edge

James August Walls has reviewed The Sun Below: City on the Edge and is blogging about GMing the game in his amazing game blog Living for Crits.

“Let me say now, very clearly, that this… is… BRILLIANT!”

“The adventure shares a similar layout as the Numenera Corebook, with callouts  and pertinent information listed along the edges of the main text, which makes running this adventure very easy.  Frankly, if I didn’t know already that this was a third-party licensee, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

Read the whole review, and an account of his first session playing the adventure, here.Living for Crits

Hipster PDA + (Numenera or The Strange) == Awesome Sauce

Index cards HipsterOne of my favorite organizing tools it the Hipster PDA, also known as a stack of index cards with a paper clip. Index cards are the perfect tool for keeping things going while GMing Numenera or The Strange.

The idea is while you are playing, you are shuffling a stack of index cards, and you pull one and add something from the card into the current scene.

Step 1: Make a card for every PC. Write down the Descriptor, Type, and Focus. Add the suggested GM Intrusion for the focus. Add any powers and artifacts the player likes to use all the time. For example, “Sneaking, Bounding Boots.” Add anything from the characters background that is fun to bring into play, like “remembers a past life experience from when she was Lady Ash’s lover and they explored space together.”

Step 2: Make cards that say Smell/Taste, Hear, Feel. I don’t bother with See, because I’m telling them what they see all the time, but you might want to throw that in too. I put smell and taste on the same card, as taste is great, but it doesn’t always come into play.

Step 3: Make a Reoccurring Dealies card. Put down NPCs, creatures, and events that your players have latched onto. These are things you’ve used in the past that intrigued the players. If it helps, add a note of how the concept got into your campaign For example “purring invisible lion (GMI for Opal: Commands Mental Powers)”, and “Lebby the Pan-Dimensional girl (NPC from The Sun Below: City on the Edge).”

Step 4: Shuffle the Deck

Step 5: Play

Now, while you are playing, keep pulling a card and finding something on it to add to the current scene.

If you pull a character card and they haven’t had a GM Intrusion this session, give them one. Otherwise, look at what’s on the card. If you pull the character with Bounding Boots, you could say “They way forward is blocked, but up on a ledge you can see a ladder that’s been pulled up. The ceramosteel wall looks almost impossible to climb. Anyone have a way up?”

If up pull the Smell/Taste card, you might say “There’s an oily, minerally smell wafting from the pit.”

When you use something from the Reoccurring Dealies card, see if your players still care about it. If they don’t cross it off. If they like the purring invisible lion, keep using it.

Keep a note of fun things that come up in the current game that your players might like to see again, and add them to the reoccurring list.

I stole this idea from Ash Law’s talk on 13th Age Adventure Design and modified it for Cypher System games, but you can use this in most any RPG. Ash’s talk on index cards starts at 27:25.

See Also: Spotlight Cards.

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The Sun Below: City on the Edge, Available Now!

At long last, the PDF version of The Sun Below: City on the Edge, is available now at DriveThruRPG.com.

CotE TitleWhat if I told you there is a world below this one? A world with its own sun? Full of strange peoples, amazing discoveries, and unspeakable horror? Finding your way down to this world is almost impossible.

Finding a way back up, well, that’s worse.

Buy Now

The Sun Below: City on the Edge, an epic adventure for Numenera that takes place deep below the surface of the Ninth World. What starts as an investigation into the aftermath of the Iron Wind soon turns to kiddnapping, a strange journey to an even stranger city.

Who will the player characters trust? Will they escape The City on the Edge?

An adventure for any tier party that your players will never forget.

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Numenera: Greatest Internet Hits

Art by Alicia Severson
Art by Alicia Severson

On to the Greatest Datasphere, er, Internet, Hits for Numenera. If I missed a favorite of yours, let me know.

(edited April 10th, 2015)

1. Companions in Numenera. The MCG blog is always worth reading, but this puppy by Monte Cook I use all the time. I have it favorited on all three of my browsers. An elegant way to make your loyal seskii, zombie, or zombie seskii useful without adding a bunch of complicated die rolls.

2. How Story Gives Life to Mechanics, by Bruce Cordell. As a GM and game designer, I reread this every so often to keep my head in the game. Highly recommended.

3. Using Points for Defense, by Monte Cook. I’ve had a a player at my table say “No way am I going to spend hit points? That’s crazy!” This post explains the concept clearly and helps me explain it to others.

4. Optional Rule: Effort for NPCs, by Monte Cook. A new one and one I tried just last night. I used it to help wrap up a combat where the players were defeating a group of chirogs. I had already used a GM intrusion in the combat, so this was perfect. I used Method 2: Based on Health, which made the chirogs both more dangerous and easier to finish off.

5. Quick and Dirty Adversaries, by Ryan Chaddock. It’s easy to say “Level 5 thingy” but this post shows an easy way to make a creature memorable. I often start with an image or mini and go from there.

6. How to Play Numenera, the best game play video ever!

7. Transmissions from the Ninth World Podcast. This two time Ennie nominee is not to be missed. Highly informative.

8. I’m Vaux, an Informed Jack who Tells Tales. This is my Signal. Oh yeah. Ennie winner The Signal is a transmission from the Ninth World.  This must be a lot of work but I wish there were 28 of these every day. The signal has gone quiet, but word in the datasphere is it will return.

9. The GM Intrusions Podcast. This since morphed into the very nice system neutral Game Master’s Journey. It still covers Numenera among other games, and the old podcasts are in in archive. Check it out!

And of course there are vibrant Numenera communities on Facebook, G+, the Ninth World Hub, and The Ninth World.

See you in the datasphere…


Whine: You know that cool layout Monte Cook Games uses in their products? I heard Monte wonder on Lex Starwalker’s GM Intrusions why other people don’t copy it from him? After all, he copied it from Dorling Kindersley travel books. Well, I copied it, and it’s hard to keep all the art, internal sidebars, the outer sidebar, and the text all together. Add a paragraph and a sidebar topic needs to move to the next page. Blah, blah, whine, blah.

But it does look cool and make it easy on the GM. The Sun Below: City on the Edge will be wrangled into shipping shape soon. I swear! (Edit: Available now!)

New to Numenera III: GMing Action Scenes

Here are two techniques I find helpful when I’m GMing Numenera action scenes. Numenera is not a game of all combat, all the time, but the Ninth World has plenty of action.

Throne Room
Art by Justin Wyatt

1: GM Intrusion

I always look for a way to add a GM Intrusion. In fact, I often start the combat out with one. This grabs the players attention and usually puts one player character at risk. Most creatures come with GM Intrusion suggestions right there in their descriptions.

For example, if I’m using a travonis ul, I can see the core book has a very nice GM Intrusion: a character is overwhelmed by a flurry of tendrils and becomes lost under the massive creature. Each round the character automatically takes 10 points of damage as they are crushed into the drit. A Might task will free them. I’m pretty sure I’ve got that player’s attention.

It’s so easy to create your own creatures in Numenera, and here are some ideas for designing GM Intrusions tailored to your own creatures.

Other GM Intrusions may occur to you. An explosive cypher may kick back bits of twisted metal from a ruin as shrapnel. The floor can cave in. Another travonis Taking the Narrative by the Tailul can show up. Gravity could reverse. All of the above!

The core book has lots of great advice on GM Intrusions. Want more? I recommend Taking the Narrative by the Tail: GM Intrusions and Special EffectsIt’s 99 cents, so go ahead and splurge.


2: End With a Bang

If combat is looking to go longer than about 3 rounds or so (I look around the table and look for flagging interest), I change things up to End With a Bang.

Here’s what I say about nasty opponents when I want the combat to finish soon:

The big beast with mouths on its claws roars and charges, disregarding its own safety in an attempt to finish you off. Its Speed defense drops one level, but if it hits you, you’re going to be hit hard.

Then I add the creatures level to it’s damage. I wing it if adding the level feels too hard or too easy.

For minor creatures, like minions or packs of lesser creatures, I say:

The little squirmy guys back away from the big beast, seemingly shaken by its mad rage. Their Speed defense drops one level, and they won’t hit any harder than before.

The PCs will hit more often, and really want to spend effort to avoid the “boss monster’s” attacks. The little guys might flee once the big guy goes down.

Enjoy! I’m sure you’ll find your own techniques. Like anything else, the best way to learn to be a great Numenera GM is to do it.


PS: Most combats in Numenera are over before they get old, so you may never need my End With a Bang idea.

However, I’m the kind of GM who really likes to challenge my players, so I throw terrible foes at them. They say they can tell if I’m running other people’s adventures because the creature levels are “so low.” Usually with the right cyphers, effort, and die rolls, my players find a way.

Sometimes, they don’t, and I want to end with a bang. I’ve explored stealing mechanics from 13th Age to use the Escalation Die and Escalating the creatures, but in reality, I don’t do that. It says something about the simplicity of the Cypher System that a very simple rule from the d20 world feels overly complicated when you use it in Numenera.

My End With a Bang is inspired by 13th Age’s Escalation die, but feels more Numeneraish.