Instant Adventures, Part III — GM Intrusions

Let’s return to the subject of Instant Adventures. In part I we took them apart and saw how to build our own. In part II we had an example using Numenera, complete with toadling queens.

Today let’s talk about GM Intrusions. You need to have GM Intrusions for your players to get xp and to keep the game interesting. We want to be sure to use GM Intrusions in our own Instant Adventures.


Many GMs new to the cypher system say they forget to do GM Intrusions. Hint: pass out physical objects for xp when you do a GM Intrusion. Use cards, poker chips, dragon tears, whatever.  The deck/pile of xp objects in front of you will remind you to keep on doing it.

Monte Cook Games sells xp decks; I like them, but anything will do.

Almost all creatures for Cypher System games come with a built in GM Intrusions. (All of the creatures from Dread Unicorn Games’ Cypher System books do.) I like to start combat with a GM Intrusion. It shows off a cool ability and I can do it again if the players roll 1s.

Floater; Numenera; Dread Unicorn Games

Now if you just made up a bunch of creatures, like my toadlings in the example Instant Adventure, you can make up GM Intrusions for them. Let’s go!

  • Margrs and Nibovian Wives are from the Core book, and already have GM Intrusions in their callouts. See pages 244 and 249. The Nibovian Wife’s GM Intrusion is an escape, which is great for avoiding combat, particularly if time is running short.
  • Toadling GM Intrusion: a swarm frenzies, attacking at 2 levels higher (6) and doing 12 points of damage.
  • Toadling Queen GM Intrusion: She spits a glob of acidic poison at a character’s face. Level 6 attack for 4 points of ambient damage, plus the character has to make a Level 6 Might defense check or take another 4 points of poison damage.
  • Toadling King GM Intrusion: He hops into the air and lands on a character. This is a level 7 attack which does 5 points of ambient damage and dazes them for one round.

Note: these attack GM Intrusions are extra attacks, so the creature can follow up with it’s normal attack.

MasksNow, let’s make up some social GM Intrusions:

  • Uncle Liskal GM Intrusion: a character in Liskal’s chamber must make a level 6 Intellect defense roll or for the next 28 hours refer to the AI as “Uncle Liskal” and feel compelled to impress the machine. “When Uncle Liskal hears how I dealt with this problem, he’ll really be impressed.” (Probably not.)
  • The Song of Love GM Intrusion: if none of the male characters are falling for Klaru’s charms, use a GM Intrusion to change one of their minds. “Despite you better judgement, there is something about her that makes you throw your caution (and clothing) to the wind.”
  • Faux pas with the Queen GM Intrusion: the slimy floor is too much for a character, causing them to slip and fall, right onto one of the queen’s offspring. The little toadling croaks in pain!
  • Jealous King GM Intrusion: If the characters fixed the moon pool to gain the queen’s help, she plants a slimy kiss on a character before they go to see the king. He sniffs the character “You’ve been fooling around with one of my queens! I can smell her on you!”

You get the idea. Things to make the game a little more interesting, to keep the story exciting, and to give everyone at the table a good laugh. And xp.

GM Intrustions Podcast Reviews The Sun Below: City on the Edge

“Just as good as an official product — in some ways I think actually better.”

“Lots and lots of GM Intrusions…”

banner-gmintrusionsLex Starwalker reviews The Sun Below: City on the Edge in episode 73 of his awesome podcast GM Intrusions. The review starts at 31:39, but if you like the Cypher System, you’ll want to listen to the whole podcast, which starts with an interview with Matt Forbeck about the Shotguns and Sorcery kickstarter, a new licensed Cypher System rpg.

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.

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.