Too many Ones in a Cypher System Game? — It’s All Good
In Numenera, The Strange, and all other Cypher System games, the rule is: roll a one, and the GM gets a “free” GM Intrusion with no experience point award. Ones are supposed to happen. 5% of the time.
But if you game enough, you’ll be sure to run into the dreaded plague of ones. So many ones, what’s a GM to do? A lot depends on what’s going on in an encounter.
Subjectively, more ones than is normal feels like a lot more. If the group’s been rolling 10% ones instead of 5%, they’re sure to notice. And claim that 25% of their rolls are ones! And since rpgs are entertainment, it’s the perception that counts.
A Plague of Ones in a Fun Encounter
This is the easy case. Everyone’s having a good time. People are laughing at all the ones showing up. (For when the Fun-O-Meter flatlines, see Part II: The Bad and the Ugly). The biggest problem is coming up with new and entertaining GM Intrusions.
Go with, or against, the theme of the game. Numenera intrusions should be high-weird. Intrusions in The Strange often work with the theme of the recursion. Playing a horror game? More horror!
OMG, another GM Intrusion, what can I do? Try another kind of GM Intrusion. You’ve been using creature intrusions? Great, now try a cypher or artifact intrusion. Or have the floor fall in, gravity reverse, objects turn into bubbles. Another foe shows up. A dead foe gets back up, always a table-pleaser. Or have the PC spring a trap.
There’s nothing wrong with going back to creature intrusions, just sprinkle some other types in between.
Environmental (climbing, crafting, and so on…)
The poor nano has rolled three ones in a row trying to climb that wall? OK, falling is good to start with, but then think outside the box. Itchy insects have a hive right where the nano puts his hand. A passerby spots them, and wants to talk. The PC gets to the top, but falls over the other side. At least they’re with the party now.
Crafting? They made something, but not what they set out to make. Perhaps it will work as intended, but have side effects, like being loud when the PCs want to be stealthy, or dripping oil on the Prince’s favorite carpet, and so on.
Perhaps you started with a social faux pas or two, now what? The PC is already looking like an idiot, move on. The PC could convince an NPC to do something, but not at all what the character intended. Communication breakdown! Has the slip of the tongue implied a marriage proposal? Was the party trying to hide their true motives? Oops, they just gave them away.
Next time we’ll look at the harder problem when people are rolling ones and the players are not having fun. Attention is flagging or maybe even people are no longer willing to engage. What will you do?