Getting Social with Numenera GM Intrusions

Last time in Numenera GM Intrusions: Creatures, I talked about creature specific action GM Intrusions. But Numenera is about so much more than confronting weird creatures. And so are GM Intrusions.

When putting together an adventure like The Sun Below: City on the Edge, I like to give a lot of choices for the players and the GM. Besides action scenes, I like to include a lot of social scenes.

MasksTo have dramatic tension, a social scene revolves around somebody wanting something from somebody else. Help, love, shins, numenera, something. One side, the petitioner, wants, the other side has to decide if they grant or deny the petitioner.

The players may want help, captives released, a singing statue, whatever. Or they may being asked for something, usually help of some kind. (Robin Laws made a whole roleplaying game centered on these kinds of social interactions: Hillfolk, it’s worth checking out.)

A GM Intrusion is there to make things more interesting. How do you make a social interaction more interesting? You mess it up and let the players figure a way to get it back on track.

Here are some of my ideas, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of your own.

  • I don’t like you: When the players want something , an NPC takes offence to one of them. The King points at you. “Feed this one to the snake people and we can continue to talk.”
  • I like you too much: When the players are being asked to agree to something they don’t think is a good idea, have one of them suddenly come under the sway of the petitioner. The rebel leader’s charisma has you mooning over her. No matter how foolish her ideas, you find yourself agreeing with them, and arguing on her side.
  • Hero worship: Once the players have proven themselves, but before the danger is over, an important NPC falls in love with a PC. And love is blind. “I’ll go with you and keep you safe.” You notice a tremble in his voice, how his eyes never leave you. His wife, who has the key you wanted, is not amused.
  • Oops: While trying to impress some NPCs, a player makes a mistake. They say inappropriate things, slip on the floor, have to run for an emergency bio break, and so on. Trying to fit in, you crunch down on the tasty hors d’evours, and see your hosts looking at you with horror. You seem to have eaten Mylk, a treasured pet.
  • Ouch: While negotiating in a dangerous environment, something goes wrong. Negotiations are interrupted by an action scene. Just as the Krim seem ready to grant you access to their sacred scrolls, one of the wall mounted machines jerks into motion and slams into you, knocking you face first into the pit.
  • Mistaken Identity: A PC looks just like somebody else the NPCs know. They have strong feelings about this other person, and negotiations break down while this plays out. The Aeon Priest spins at you. “Thief! I saw you steal the serum!”
  • History: The NPC actually recognizes the PC, as they have history that complicates things. You recognize this person. She used to run with your gang in Mulen. When the guards took the gang down, she always blamed you as the snitch who sent her friends to prison.

Numenera GM Intrusions: Creatures

Art by Justin Wyatt

One of the great things about Numenera, is how easy it is to make a new creature on the fly. Here goes:

“A human-sized blob with hanging tendrils (5).”

Done. The GM knows it’s a difficulty 5 to dodge the blob, hit the blob, or if the blob is intelligent, sway the blob to the PC’s point of view. If the blob gets mad and hits someone, they take 5 points of damage. The blob has 5 * 3 = 15 hit points. All from the number 5.

But take a look at the creatures in the core book or the Ninth World Bestiary. It’s OK to add all sorts of individual quirks to a creature. Best of all, you can add a creature specific GM Intrusion, just like in the books.

Art by Reece Ambrose

When I’m designing new creatures for an adventure like The Sun Below: City on the Edge, I always add a GM Intrusion. But why? Why would you use one in game?

Ever forget to give every player a GM Intrusion? Forget no more. If you have a combat, open with one. That gets the players’ attention and signals the situation is going to be intense. Have 4 players, and you think you’ll be running 2 combats this session? Throw 2 GM Intrusions into each combat. Ta-da! You’ve met your quota.

And every time your players roll a 1, you know what to do.

Of course there are many non-combat GM intrusions that are just as fun, but I’ll talk about those another time.

Here are my rules of thumb when designing a creature GM Intrusion. These are just mine. You will have your own, but you know, sharing is caring.

    • In other games, creatures often get special powers that they use only sometimes. A dragon’s breath, extra damage if they roll certain numbers, when they reach half health, and so on. A GM Intrusion is the Numeneraish way to give those powers.
    • Make it flow from the creature’s normal abilities. Got a creature with psychic powers? They can use Mind Control as a GM Intrusion. Are they giant size? They can stomp on a PC’s head.
    • Make it powerful, but tied to the creatures’s level. A level 3 creature probably should probably not pop a death ray that drops a character 2 steps down the damage track. I often go with either an extra attack at 2+ levels over the creatures level for a ton of damage, or an automatic hit for half a ton.
    • You don’t have to “hit” to have an effect. If the player spends a lot of effort to avoid the effect, they are down points, and deserve the benefit.
    • As your players go up tiers, they get free effort from edge, so don’t be shy about bumping the difficulty to avoid the effect.
    • If it’s a high level creature to begin with, it’s great to have a GM Intrusion that drops a character down a step on the damage track. Other fun effects are dazed, stunned, and knocked off a cliff. Into a sea of lava. With spikes.
    • I stick to single target effects. Why? If I want to pass out GM Intrusion XP, single target keeps it simple. Yes, if the player rolls a 1 it might be fun to pop a big area of effect hurt on the players, but creature powers don’t lend themselves well to group GM Intrusions for XP.
    • I like to add a line I can use to describe how it feels.

You teleport into the flames and feel the searing hot bladed hands of the automaton dig deep into your body. Your flesh sizzles like meat on a spit.

Next are ideas for social GM Intrusions.