Stealing the Weird: Putting Numenera Creatures into your 13th Age Game

Sometimes it’s nice to shake the players up a bit. They know the game a little too well and are becoming hard to surprise. One trick is to look at your bookshelf and steal something from a very different game and stick it in the one you are running now.

Art by James E Shields
Art by James E Shields

As an example, I’ll steal a Numenera creature, and 13th Ageify it. I’ll take one of mine, the Pyronic Sentry, which first appeared in The Sun Below: City on the Edge, but you can see it here. You can do this with any two game systems.

This is a challenging creature for beginning Numenera parties, so let’s make it a challenge for a 2nd level 13th Age party. We’ll make it a large 4th level monster. It looks large and it’s doing double damage, which is what large monsters do.

It’s obviously a construct, perhaps one of the Dwarf King’s artificers went over the deep end and sold these to the highest bidder. Or was forced to make them against her will…

Reading the modifications, we’ll make it invulnerable to heat, and vulnerable to cold.

Now, let’s look at it’s GM Intrusion: it can teleport a PC to directly in front of it. Which is nice, because it’s always standing in a fire or lava, and then it hits it for extra damage. A GM Intrusion typically only happens once a battle, so we’ll go with limited use, once a battle.

Check out DIY Monsters section in the 13th Age Core book.

Pyronic Sentry

A pyronic sentry is an armored construct whose color changes to match the flames it finds itself in. It looks like an eight foot tall armored man with long blades for hands. It is always found standing in fire, lava, or some other superheated environment. To engage a pyronic sentry, one must enter its fiery environ. As a construct it follows orders to guard a place or a thing.

Large 4th level wrecker [construct]

Initiative: +7

Invulnerable: magical and mundane heat and fire; Vulnerable: cold

Sizzling Sword Hands +9 vs. AC — 20 damage

Natural even hit: +16 heat damage

R: Come Play: +9 vs. MD — 24 damage

Hit or Miss: Nearby target is teleported directly in front of the pyronic sentry, taking 16 heat damage from the environment the sentry is standing in.

Limited Use: 1/battle.

Fiery environs: At the start of the pyronic sentry’s turn, each enemy engaged with it or otherwise standing in the fire/lava takes 14 fire damage.

Nastier Specials

Some Like it Hot: A character must make a hard save (16+) to leave the fiery environs.

AC   20

PD   18                          HP 108

MD  14


GM Excuses VII: So That’s What An Invisible Man Looks Like


GM Excuses, Part VII

droodWorldWithoutTearsIf you’re new to this blog thread, I’m following the Writing Excuses master class on writing, and transmogrifying it to be about adventure design. In Part 2, I mixed up ideas from Part 1 to create a mash-up, an adventure based on Drood, the novel by Dan Simmons and  World Without Tears, a song by Lucinda Williams. In Part 3, I auditioned NPCs for the lead role in the adventure and let the blog readers vote for their favorites. In Part 4, I sent three of these NPCs to do a dead-drop.

Homework Time! Who Are All These People? Have a listen.

Writing Prompt: Pick one of the dead-drop characters  and turn them into a secondary character. Now take one of the characters with whom they interacted, and write the same scene again, but from this new character’s POV with the characters focused on the other NPC.

I’ll pick Anton, Nalo’s brother, as they had the only dead-drop with two characters. Last time Anton was unseen. Again, I’ll do it as Read Aloud text in an adventure.

Anton In the Market

Read the following aloud, or paraphrase it in your own words.

You cast your spell to make the invisible visible and the silent heard, then search the crowded marketplace. Sure enough, when Nalo D’Costa enters the market, her invisible brother fades into view right there at Nalo’s side. Unlike his sister who is well dressed, Anton wears threadbare clothes and is shackled, dragging a chain behind him.

They are only two black skinned people in the market, but others only see one. 

“You hear these English talk?” Anton asks his sister. “They hate you. You are too smart, too pretty, too well dressed, and most of all, too black. They will kill you like they did me. See how they stare?”

Nalo struggles not to look at him. Under her breath she hisses “Yes, I know they are looking at me. Always me, and not you. Why don’t you make yourself useful and create a distraction?”

Fish MongerAnton smiles. “Only because I can’t hold the bag myself. Stick it in that barrel while I overturn the fat man’s fish cart.”

Aha, so this is a big change from the scene in Part 4. While it relies on a spell, I like this one better as far as getting the action going. The other one distanced the character watching. Now that they see and hear Anton, they are more in the game. I think in games with mystery, you can wait too long to really engage the players, where only the GM has a clue what is going on. The players are so lost they don’t know what to do.

And why can he overturn fish carts but can’t hold the bag?

Interesting when you try a scene where the PCs are spying on Nalo, then try it again, when they spy on her invisible brother Anton.

GM Excuses VI: Win or Lose, Still Fun

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GM Excuses, Part VI

lightsaberFollowing along Writing Excuses‘ master class in writing, we get to a very interesting discussion on the magical 1%. As in Star Wars, the Jedi are the 1%, all that matters to the plot. And then comes Han Solo. Great stuff, have a listen.

The homework is going to have to be reskinned:

Writing Prompt: Think about the last time you lost at a game. What was the process of thought that led to your loss? Now, replicate that moment in the dramatic structure of the story, except the story isn’t about games.

What a wonderful fiction prompt, but for a RPG adventure, how can we use it? The last game I lost was Carcassonne, a Euro Game. Hmm, how to create an adventure out of my blunders in cathedral and farm placement…

What are some of the reasons I like Euro games? They are fun even if you lose. The entire time you are playing, you’re usually make progress, building things, and racking up points. Even if someone edged you out, you were building your own empire.

Now, let’s apply that to an adventure. While RPG players can always lose, they don’t usually lose while making progress, getting stuff accomplished. They walk in a door, find something awful, roll badly, make bad choices, and either flee or reacquaint themselves with the character creation rules.

Adventure Writing Prompt: Create a scenario where the players can make progress, accomplish great things, have a good time doing it, and still lose. 

keyThe goal is create a key out of parts found inside an underground temple, rescuing prisoners and destroying evil shrines along the way. Then take the key to the final encounter and unlock the imprisoned avatar of good. So, besides ending up on the sacrificial altar, how can they lose? They can lose to a second adventuring group that finds it’s own key and rescues the avatar, putting the PCs in second place. “Nice try…” But the big rewards are for first place.

Let’s make three keys that will work, bronze, iron, and steel, each made of three parts. The temple is an inverted pyramid. The fourth, lowest level, holds the door to the imprisoned avatar. The third level has three chambers, each of which has key pieces of different colors. The second has six chambers, three with different colored key pieces. The top level has nine chambers, three with key pieces. Frightful guardians, prisoners, and evil shrines are scattered throughout.

Bishop Beesir is the patron, and sets the two teams in motion. The NPC team, the “Silver Shadows” includes NPCs the PCs have run into before, either as rivals or allies. There are two known entrances, the front door and side entrance. The PCs pick their entrance. The clock is ticking, as the avatar can’t survive much longer in it’s extra-dimensional prison.

While it may be possible to get to the goal in four encounters, the evil complex is warded against abilities that show either party what is where without looking. It’s not wise to skip freeing prisoners and destroying shrines, because these actions give the avatar respite. Sprinkle clues to the keys among shrines and prisoners.

To keep things abstract, we’ll measure time in encounters the PCs face. All things being equal, the Silver Shadows will free the avatar in 10 encounters.

Headwinds: If the PCs are racing to an easy win when they hit the third level, they find the Silver Shadows have already looted a key piece they are looking for. The PCs will have to find the other group and arrange a trade, or switch to another color key.

If the PCs are lagging behind, one of the surplus key pieces they have picked up is needed by the Silver Shadows. The NPCs backtrack and find the PCs, offering a trade. This adds 1d3 to the number of encounters the NPCs need to win.

Treachery: If the PCs attack the Silver Shadows to rob them of their keys, they hear a thunderclap as their deeds feed the evil complex, adding to the difficulity of all future encounters. Plus they find themselves applauded by an evil priestess who offers them a deal if they bring her Bishop Beesir in chains.

A nice change of pace adventure. What about you, can you think of an adventure where the players would feel like they are doing good, even if they “lose” in the end?

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GM Excuses V: Lovecraftian Horror

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GM Excuses, Part V

And the 3rd will be 5th. Somehow we jumped over the Lovecraftian episode of Writing Excuses. Perhaps our broken minds blocked the show out. And now, it’s back, more terrifying than ever!

MaplecroftAnd it’s a great episode, with guest speaker Cherry Priest. Her latest novel is Maplecroft: Lizzy Borden with an ax vs. Cthulhu! Hello?

Take a listen, then let’s do our homework.

Writing Prompt: Take a character, and from that character’s point of view, describe their reaction to something horrific and awful, but do so without describing the thing itself.

OK, great fiction writing prompt. How can we twist this for gaming? If we use an npc, when would the players ever hear about it? If we take a PC, how would you describe something to them without describing it?

Here’s my shot. It’s a PC, and here’s the READ ALOUD text addressed to ONE character:

As you step across the obsidian floor, white glyphs flare into existance across the surface and twist and turn. The rest of the party watches in horror as you vanish.

You fall to the floor in front of your friends, covered in a foul caul of mucus. How long were you gone? Thankfully you don’t remember, until, then you do. Just bits and pieces. Being on a stone table as surgical implements held by what? Pincers? As you were cut open? There was a lot of screaming. Yours.

And they put you back together. But not quite the same as before. And didn’t they add something? Cold and wriggling? Can you feel it now wrapped around your heart, or is this some delusion?

You hope it never happened. But you know better. There is no hope, and it’s only going to get worse.

So the poor player doesn’t really know what took them away, nor what they looked like. What all the players know, is any of them can be taken at any time. And unspeakable horrors are hovering.

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March Playtesting

Placeholder Cover ArtIf you are interested in playtesting The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady, email me.

System: Numenera
Author: John WS Marvin
Deadline: April 30th
As the explorers investigate disturbing goings on in the numenera mines of Orb Mountain, in the world of The Sun Below, the dangers start to escalate fast. Can the players stop not one, but two apocalypses? Or should they choose one? A Numenera adventure for all tiers.